Book Bingo 2019 is a collaboration challenge I am completing with my favourite bloggers, Theresa Smith Writes and The Book Muse. Each Saturday, on a fortnightly basis, beginning on Saturday 5th January 2019, Ashleigh, Theresa and I will complete a book review post, outlining our respective bingo card entries. The Book Bingo 2019 card contains a total of 30 squares, which we will complete over the course of the year, with the aim to complete the whole card by the end of December. Two of the Book Bingo entries this year will be flexible, so that means it is completely down us as to when we post these entries, to ensure all 30 are ticked off by the end of the year. Do keep an eye out on our respective blog sites for our bonus round entries! To keep things interesting for ourselves and those following along with us, the choice of bingo square to be covered will be entirely down to us, there is no crossover – that is planned anyway! However, as Ashleigh, Theresa and I enjoy similar books, especially books by Australian women writers, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we end up with more than one book double up, as was the case in 2018! We invite you to join us in this fun book related challenge, by linking your bingo card entries in the comments section of this post, tagging us on social media, or by visiting The Book Muse and Theresa Smith Writes.
1932. Ernie and Lily Hass, and their daughter, Girlie, have lost almost everything in the Depression. Abandoning their failing wheat farm, they make a new start on the west coast of Australia, where they begin to build a summer guesthouse. But forming new alliances isn’t easy – and when Lily’s shell-shocked brother Tommy wanders into their new life, his presence will raise questions that cut to the heart of who Ernie, Lily and Girlie really are.
Kali Napier breathes a fever-pitch intensity into the story of these emotionally fragile characters as their secrets are revealed with tragic consequences.
‘She’d thought she’d known all of Jenny’s secrets. But not the secret of Jimbo. How could adults keep secrets this big?’
Secrets, this book is brimming with them. The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge by Kali Napier is a 2018 debut publication by Hachette Books Australia. This novel represents a stunning ode to the Great Depression, with a distinct Australian focus, and a deep introspection into coastal life. Taking us deep into the lives of four pivotal characters, The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge is one of the strongest examples of an Australian family mystery novel I have ever had the pleasure of encountering.
It is the year 1932. We meet Ernie and Lily Hass, along with their daughter Girlie, who are a solid example of the Great Depression. After their wheat farm goes under, Ernie decides to move on to a new venture. This move takes the family from the Wheatbelt to the coast, settling in a town named Dongarra. Ernie hopes the family’s fortunes will take a turn for the better, as he sets up a guesthouse. However, for his wife and daughter, things are not easy. Mother and daughter both struggle to assimilate into the local community. Deep seated secrets also overhang the Hass family, making it impossible for them to move on from the past. When Tommy, Lily’s brother, a returning solider from the Great War re-enters their lives, he brings about a revelation of secrets that will result in broken hearts across the Hass family. The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge is an Australian historical fiction novel, drawn for the personal experiences of the author, Kali Napier’s family history. In experiencing this moving this tale, we learn that it is impossible to hide secrets and that finding your place in the world is a difficult feat.
I was searching my bookshelves for a book to read that would successfully fulfil the category for a book set on the Australian coast, for a challenge I am completing this year, Book Bingo 2019. My eyes rested on a book I purchased last year, but regretfully, I did not get a chance to read. The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge, penned by Kali Napier, is a book that I feel is a perfect example of a book set on the Australian coast. The bulk of the novel is set on the West Australian coast, mainly in a tiny town named Dongarra (spelt with an extra ‘r’ during the time the book is set). I have personally visited this picturesque locally, albeit briefly, on route to Geraldton. From firsthand experience, I can tell you Dongarra (Dongara) is a breathtaking place. Kali Napier gives us a wonderful impression of this coastal spot.
‘Though the sky was almost cloudless, the wind that whirled through the open doorway carried a veil of sea spray the numbed Lily’s hands and nose and ears.’
The sense of place, so vividly set to the pages of this book, is what makes The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge such a magical novel in my eyes. I find it absolutely unfathomable that Kali Napier is a debut writer, for her command of words is simply stunning and completely masterful. There is so much imagery in her writing that I felt deeply rooted in the locale of this novel, from the moment that the Hass family set foot in Dongarra.
I love to sink my teeth into a good family mystery novel and The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge delivered. The mystery aspect of the novel is established very early on the piece and Kali Napier stretches this intrigue level as much as she can. She held me captive for the entire length of her novel, which is not always easy to come by. The way the secrets are held, maintained and gradually revealed was breathtaking. I certainly felt more than a few surprises. Napier also does a very good job of illuminating just what happens in terms of the consequences of holding on to these secrets. The results are explosive to say the least!
An area that I felt Napier really shines is in her examination of the Depression, from an Australian set of eyes. This as a unique and insightful narrative focus. Through the character of Ernie Hass, we learn of the struggles to gain the upper hand over property, livelihood and poverty. Through the character of Tommy, Lily’s troubled brother, we also gain an important insight into the lives of returned soldiers, especially those with PTSD. Tommy’s experience shines a light on the tragedy and the after effects of the war. Tommy is a man who struggles to settle in one place and on one thing after the war. I feel this one experience is just a drop in the ocean as to what our returned soldiers would have experienced.
Another focal point that resonated with me as reader was Napier’s focus on the prejudice that defined this era. The plight of the local indigenous population is considered thoughtfully by Napier and it gave me a sad appreciation for the toils of our first people. In addition, there are side references to the racism experienced by the Asian population, which mentions ‘chinamen’ in the novel. Napier also chooses to focus her attention on the plight of women in this era, their lack of choice, control and through Lily Hass, the sacrifices that were made just to stay afloat.
A number of reviewers before me have remarked on the characterisation of this book and commented on the fact that this is a book largely driven by the actions of the characters, rather than a fast moving plot. I have to agree. The characterisation present in The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge is outstanding. Choosing to alternate the narration between four central characters gives Kali Napier the creative licence to explore the depths of each of her four main protagonists. As a result, we receive a full impression of each individual character. We glean so much by way of their motivations, thoughts, fears, dreams and of course, their secrets, which is the central focus of this exceptional novel. Napier also draws on a narrative trick of delving into the memories of each of her characters, delivered on the page like a stream of consciousness, separated, but at the same time connected to the present time events. I felt Napier used this device to the fullest advantage. I also appreciated Napier’s balance on the flaws of these characters. Interestingly enough, I didn’t have favourite character in this novel, Ernie, Lily, Girlie and Tommy each touched me in their own special way. I will not be forgetting this cast any time soon.
There is just so much more I could say about this remarkable novel, but I am conscious of this review being lengthy. My initial pull to this novel was the fact that is set in a part of my home state I am familiar with and it is inspired by the author’s own family history. The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge did leave a deep impact on me and although it is early on in my reading journey of 2019, I am sure this evocative Australian novel will remain on my favourites list of 2019.
***** 5 stars
The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge by Kali Napier is published by Hachette Australia. Out now. $29.99
To learn more about the author of The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge, Kali Napier, visit here.
The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge is book #25 of the 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge