Title: Matters of the Heart
Author: Fiona Palmer
Published: August 27th 2019
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 4.5 stars
A classic love story about manners, men and modern romance retold by bestselling Australian author, Fiona Palmer
Western Australia, 2019: The Bennets are a farming family struggling to make ends meet. Lizzy, passionate about working the land, is determined to save the farm. Spirited and independent, she has little patience for her mother’s focus on finding a suitable man for each of her five daughters.
When the dashing Charles Bingley, looking to expand his farm holdings, buys the neighbouring property of Netherfield Park, Mrs Bennet and the entire district of Coodardy are atwitter with gossip and speculation. Will he attend the local dance and is he single? These questions are soon answered when he and Lizzy’s sister Jane form an instant connection on the night. But it is Charlie’s best friend, farming magnate Will Darcy, who leaves a lasting impression when he slights Lizzy, setting her against him.
Can Lizzy and Will put judgements and pride aside to each see the other for who they really are? Or in an age where appearance and social media rule, will prejudice prevail?
Australia’s bestselling storyteller Fiona Palmer reimagines Jane Austen’s beloved classic tale of manners and marriage, transporting an enduring love story in this very twenty-first century novel about family, female empowerment and matters of the heart.
“AS A BIG FAN OF JANE AUSTEN’S Pride and Prejudice AND ALL its retellings I’ve been thinking about this Australian version for many years.”
Fiona Palmer, Acknowledgements, Matters of the Heart
As a big fan of Jane Austen’s works, with my favourite novel of her famous collection being Pride and Prejudice, I was ecstatic to see one of Australia’s foremost rural romance novelists tackle a recreation of this beloved classic. Fiona Palmer has put her own unique spin on a novel that is loved by millions across the globe, by incorporating a modern day, and distinctly Australian flavour to her novel, Matters of the Heart.
In Matters of the Heart, Fiona Palmer has faithfully transferred the Jane Austen classic, Pride and Prejudice to a new stage, setting her novel in the Australian rural landscape, which is vastly contrasted to Georgian England. This is a contemporary tale, set in the here and how of Western Australia, my home state, in 2019. When the book opens, we are acquainted with the Bennet family, who are struggling to keep their family farm afloat. Lizzy, one of the Bennet daughters, is determined to save her family’s livelihood and she would much rather work on the land than marry. Things change for the Bennet family when a charming man named Charles Bingley arrives on the scene and purchases the property next door. It sends the local community in a flurry of excitement, especially when it is revealed that he is a bachelor. Before long, Lizzy’s sister Jane finds favour with Charles, but this is threatened by outside influences. When Charles’ best friend Will Darcy enters the scene, relationships, alliances and loyalties are tested to their very limits.
I am quite the fan of Jane Austen inspired retellings, both on the page and screen. I will go out of my way to seek these books to read, or view the screen versions. As with many fans of Jane Austen’s adapted works, my all time favourite piece is the 1995 version starring Colin Firth as Mr Darcy. Interestingly enough, Fiona Palmer has confessed to not having watched this series feature. I will forgive her though, as Matters of the Heart is a carefully plotted recreation, that manages to balance original features of the classic book, with a brand new twist. I enjoyed every moment of Matters of the Heart.
Thematically, Matters of the Heart covers a lot of ground. We are immediately drawn to the plight of modern day farmers, thanks to the experiences of the Bennet family. Palmer leans on her first hand experience of working as a farmhand in between writing to raise our awareness of the tough conditions faced by those who rely on the land. From financial pressures, the shifting economic conditions, land rights, modern day farming practices and inheritance issues, this one covers it all.
Fiona Palmer has gone to great lengths to maintain the integrity of the original cast of characters from Pride and Prejudice in Matters of the Heart. However, she boldly takes these characters to new heights, pitting them against the challenges of modern day living. Palmer links in the influence of technology, present day communication forms, relations and social etiquette in her novel. This aspect of the story afforded plenty of food for thought and it made me think critically about how we interact with each other in this busy modern world. As a loyal fan of Pride and Prejudice, it was a joy to see the beloved cast from the original book flung into Australian society and in a rural setting. Palmer has worked hard to ensure that many of the key features, behaviours and idiosyncrasies of the characters of Austen’s classic remain. Palmer has simply stretched or updated these well known protagonists to fit in with the direction of this novel.
Matters of the Heart is still very much a romance, and a rural romance at that. In the crowded world of Australian rural romance, is it pleasing to see Fiona Palmer take a risk and try something a little off the beaten track from the set format of books from this genre. I really enjoyed the different romance stories that played out during this novel – the good, the bad and the ugly! From the stoic romance between Lizzy and Will, to the complicated but sweet love story of Charles and Jane, to the infamous forbidden romance between Wickham and Lydia, I enjoyed the trip down memory lane! Most of all, I adored revisiting some treasured moments of Jane Austen’s masterpiece.
Fiona Palmer delivers the goods in her very own individual take on Pride and Prejudice, with her latest novel, Matters of the Heart. A book full of heart, the complications of modern day relationships and livelihoods, this is a creative retelling that should not be missed!
Matters of the Heart by Fiona Palmer is published by Hachette Australia. Out now. $29.99
To learn more about the author of Matters of the Heart, Fiona Palmer, visit here.
*Thanks is extended to Hachette Australia for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.
Matters of the Heart is book #114 of the 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge