The climax will haunt you whether you are a “local” or not.
The south-west coast is the kind of place people escape to. Unless you have lived there all your life, in which case, you long to get away.
Rosie and Cray chuck in their city jobs for Margaret River while Liza, Ferg and Sam have been there forever, working the family farm. Under pressure from developers the families unite against change. But when a natural disaster strikes, change is inevitable.
I am always keen to read books written by Australian authors particular those local to the region I live in or those written about that region– and you couldn’t get any more “local” than this, a story written about the Margaret River region. Local landmarks are thinly disguised and easily recognised. A narrative based on my local region, with a synopsis that talks about sea changes (which again appealed to me because of my own relatively recent sea change) and an environmental issue, I was hooked. A barely glanced over the line “But a natural disaster…” and wasn’t prepared for the emotional ending.
Fitzpatrick drew me in with elements that I thought would be related to my own life; there was so many aspects of the narrative that felt I would recognise, maybe empathise with; my daughter is a journalist, I have a son in-law who is a FIFO mine worker, we made a sea change to the Margaret River region…I thought I would find elements here I could identify with. But I didn’t. The book is set in the late 1990’s but at times felt so much older, so dated … or do I have a short memory? I am seeing a stereotyped version of a hippy/surfing culture that I think existed in the 70’s? I don’t know but for me the contemporary issues felt at odds with the setting. Something didn’t quite jell.
The story is told through the circumstance and lives of two sets of families – Rosie and Cray – who made the deliberate decision to move to the area and the Crowe family – a family of farmers who have always lived in the area, a juxtaposition of opinions and perspectives that eventually is meant to lead to us to an intersection where both families unite (over a development issue). This did not work for me – I did not feel there was any real connection between the two units, the relationship didn’t seem to grow and just seemed cursory. I think this aspect needs more development.
I can empathise with the desire to escape the city life and move to a regional area where life is more relaxed but I didn’t feel a connection with the main characters experiences and I didn’t feel any sense of the community they were seeking (until the very last pages) and then I didn’t feel they were part of that community. In fact the lives they moved to seemed pretty disparate with their ideals before they left, particularly for Rosie. Life was probably looking better to Cray but he was a character I didn’t warm to; I felt he was selfish.
Despite some misgiving with the lack of development of the relationships in this narrative I can see a wonderful potential in the storyline regarding the history of the Crowe family. I would have liked to have known more about their lives, about their relationships, about the problems the family dealt with (and there are many) and the optimism Crowe senior had for life on the land. I would like to have known more about a family dealing with an addiction and with tragedy.
The tragedy – despite not living in the area at the time of this event (no spoilers here) I felt the wounds were still to raw to be presented in this forum. It is very clear what the author is referring to – there is no real effort to disguise the event. I think fiction/fact is too blurred here, “faction” is not what I wanted to read and is an entirely different narrative, one that could work so well – there is a story based on the tragedy that would really work here as a work of fiction, but not an identifiable fiction.
Writing that is engaging – but a narrative that is not developed enough for my liking. But mine is just a personal view, you should make up your own mind.