Title: The Orchardist’s Daughter
Author: Karen Viggers
Published: February 1st 2019
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Literary
Rating: 4.5 stars
A story of freedom, forgiveness and finding the strength to break free. International bestselling writer Karen Viggers returns to remote Tasmania, the setting of her most popular novel The Lightkeeper’s Wife.
When Miki meets Leon, another outsider, things slowly begin to change. But the power to stand up for yourself must come from within. And Miki has to fight to uncover the truth of her past and discover her strength and spirit.
Set in the old-growth eucalypt forests and vast rugged mountains of southern Tasmania, The Orchardist’s Daughter is an uplifting story about friendship, resilience and finding the courage to break free.
‘She thought how the land was made of many things: forest and heath, mountains and streams, plains lakes, clouds, sky. The land had layers. Like people. Like trees. Every element complemented the others, and every element was different. She liked how things came together to make a whole. A landscape. A country. A world. Everything was here.’
The Orchardist’s Daughter is a book that I have been eagerly awaiting. This new novel from Australian storyteller Karen Viggers is a beautiful tribute to Tasmania, its unique wildlife, old growth forests and pristine environment. Underneath, The Orchardist’s Daughter is a story of disconnection, belonging, friendship and survival. I was absolutely taken by this book, from the opening to the closing moments.
There are some stunning novels that have been inspired by and set in Tasmania. Since a trip I made to Tasmania in 2010, I have developed a sense of connection to this beautiful part of Australia. I can’t get enough of stories set in Tasmania! The Orchardist’s Daughter well and truly met my reading needs.
There are three main characters that form the lifeblood of The Orchardist’s Daughter. There is Miki, a teenager on the cusp of adulthood trying to find her place in the world. Miki is silenced and constrained by the tight rein her overly protective brother has placed her. Miki’s life is defined by the simple of joy of exploring the outside world when circumstances allow and her love for the written word, in particular classic books (a sub narrative strand I relished). Then there is Leon, a newcomer who is hoping to make a fresh start in his new role as a conservation officer. Finally, the book is also told through the eyes of Max, a ten year old boy, who comes from a dysfunctional family, defined by violence. As the story progresses, Max also becomes the subject of a local bully. These are diverse characters, but Viggers demonstrates the skill to get inside each of their heads with ease. Although the initial connection between these three contrasting characters seemed quite uncertain, and I wasn’t sure where Viggers was going to go with her protagonists, the developments made in terms of the narrative quickly dissolved any reservations I had.
Aside from the strong characterisation prevalent in The Orchardist’s Daughter, there are a range of themes that are handled with care and professional insight by Karen Viggers. From isolation, belonging, connection, comfort and courage, this plays out against a heartbreaking and a scathing insight into violence, coercion, submission and bullying. These are emotional and hard hitting themes, but Karen Viggers treads delicate ground, offering an honest and eye opening portrayal of issues that we tend to ignore. In fact, the role of the bystander struck me quite hard in this piece. So many people of the local town sat by and knew about Miki’s predicament, but did nothing. The role of character’s such as Leon and Geraldine were important, acting as a catalyst to bring about a process of change and support to Miki. Likewise, Leon acts as a big brother or buddy figure for Max, just as he is dealing with one of the hardest experiences a juvenile can face, bullying. All of these themes receive expert treatment by Karen Viggers, it is never presented in a sentimental, or preaching way.
Another aspect that I absolutely adored and connected to on another level was the conservation focus of The Orchardist’s Daughter. Viggers draws our attention to the conundrum between logging, forestry techniques and preservation. She takes an introspective and well rounded look into small town community perceptions. Viggers raises the possibility of tourism versus logging as a source of income for these old timber communities. However, the thread that I enjoyed most was the emphasis on the plight of the Tasmanian Devil. Viggers’ focus on the facial tumour issues plaguing these native creatures and Miki’s implicit connection to saving these creatures struck a chord. If you are a nature lover, expect to be dazzled by the bounty of descriptions around other native fauna, and the vivid depiction of the local scenery surrounding the backdrop of The Orchardist’s Daughter.
There is also an undercurrent of mystery and intrigue that flows through The Orchardist’s Daughter. We know that Kurt, Miki’s brother, is a bad seed and up to no good. This reaches crisis point in the final chapters of the novel. My pulse was beating so hard in these suspense scenes, which was executed just perfectly by Karen Viggers.
Tasmania truly comes alive through the stunning mode of storytelling executed by Karen Viggers. The book also raises some important questions around community perceptions, bullying, family violence, loneliness and understanding. The Orchardist’s Daughter is a novel I would recommend without reservation, it is a remarkable yarn left that a strong mark on my heart.
‘Turning to face the mountains where the clouds hung steely and low, Miki saw the faint suggestion of a rainbow. Real, or imagined through the mist of her tears, it didn’t matter. All she knew was that the river running through her. Like waters of the river up in the mountains, was rich and deep with life, anticipation and hope.’
The Orchardist’s Daughter by Karen Viggers was published on February 1st 2019 by Allen & Unwin. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of The Orchardist’s Daughter, Karen Viggers, visit here.
*I wish to thank Allen & Unwin for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.
The Orchardist’s Daughter is book #44 of the 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge