3 out of 4 stars
Share This Review
Adultery, alcoholism, and bigotry are themes I don't look for when I chose a book to read. Jennie Linnane's book Ironbark Hill is an exception. Linnane's deft writing depicts a picture of a young woman growing up in a stressful environment and how it frames her decisions. The result is one that may leave you questioning or applauding the character's decisions.
Growing up in the Australia countryside, Natalie is a clever and insecure sixteen-year-old. Told through her perspective years later looking back, she contemplates on what transpired. She lives on her family's farm with her mother, siblings, her grandfather and her alcoholic step-father Alex. It is Alex's abuse of the bottle that creates tension and poverty for the household. Alex and Natalie share a mutual loathing for each other that cause strife throughout the novel. To get away from household problems Natalie finds solace at her employer's home and in her employer's arms.
One thing I appreciated about this book was the portrayal of an alcoholic family. Coming from a family like this, I can relate to the walking on egg shells feeling and the deep set anger it can entail. The mother who knows she must stand her ground yet loves her husband so much she doesn't want to see him leave. Children pitching in money to keep the family afloat because all the money otherwise earned goes towards the drinking habit. You either overcome the chaos or it overcomes you. Natalie breaks out of the turmoil with the pursual of painting. And yet glimpses of dysfunctional thinking show when she perceives all women are victimized. Natalie feels she is finally loved by a man when she starts the relationship with the much older Bruce.
Death and tragedy happen throughout the narrative. Although these deaths were sad, the most disheartened one for me was the death of Natalie's belief in God. Throughout the book Natalie talks about God being remote and callous. When she starts her affair, she stops going to church all together. She concludes with her brother, "We've been brainwashed with religion. There's just birth, life, and death, that's all we can be sure of". God was applied a masculine personality by ancient male writers in her opinion. What she walked away from was the sole relationship that could fulfill her.
From the beginning I did not like Natalie and at the end I undoubtedly did not like her. Yes, I sympathized with her. But her intense animosity, lack of compassion, and immoral choices drove out all of my sympathy. I turn away from a book when I cannot connect with the main character. The pace was steady with spikes of action in it. I lean towards action packed stories. Neither one of these issues matter though with this book. Linnane's descriptive storytelling swept me up and along the way I hoped that all would come to a happy conclusion. I did not get the resolution I wanted, but I enjoyed the journey getting there.
The ending was abrupt and left me wanting more. Even though there was an epilogue, it only glossed over Natalie's later life. Having a fuller ending would have made the book even more satisfying. I give Ironbark Hill 3 out of 4 stars. The glorification of adultery and mild violence are present and might offend some. If you enjoy character driven stories, you will like this one. Linnane's writing was superb, and I only found one error of a missing quotation mark.
View: on Bookshelves | on Amazon
Like melissy370's review? Post a comment saying so!