4 out of 4 stars
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The novel Ironbark Hill by Jennie Linnane is full of complex layers that would squash the life out of someone, but our main character Natalie Chapman proves otherwise. This novel is written from the perspective of Natalie Chapman as she tells us about her sixteenth year of life.
Natalie Chapman and her brother Joey are the children of Johnny and Irma Chapman. Johnny is killed in a tragic accident, and Irma marries again to a man named Alex Townsend. Alex and Irma then have three children, Shirley, Robyn, and Davey. Davey, unfortunately, dies at a young age which leads Alex to a lifetime of alcohol abuse. Natalie speaks of her stepfather with such hatred as she recounts the sly remarks about her being part aborigine and the beatings she takes by his hands. Natalie, often referred to as Natty, works for a well to do couple, the Glovers, as a housekeeper to help her mother. Alex has lost any chance of getting a job and let the family farm deteriorate due to his alcoholism. During this year we learn of circumstances which make Natalie become an adult very quickly. She learns how to work, use money wisely, and then comes the loss of innocence with Bruce Glover.
The author’s way with words produces a story in which you feel like you are sitting on Ironbark Hill watching every act unfold before you. Moments arise that make you so angry you want to hurt someone physically. Then there are those times you find tears rolling down your cheeks and wishing there was something you could do to change Natalie’s situation. The emotion evoked by the author is at times overwhelming.
I liked so many aspects of this novel I could not narrow it down to one as my favorite!
My favorite part was when Natalie hid her prized heifer, Libby. I laughed so hard while reading this story. As a farm girl myself, I could relate to every thought Natalie was having. Another aspect I loved was how the author used the traditional speech of the Australian people. I had not read any books from an Australian author, so I enjoyed the language used and how she describes the landscape. Linnane does a fantastic job of making this novel one you can honestly be a part of. It is as she is inviting you in and asking which character do you want to be?
There wasn’t anything I disliked about this novel. It was well written and tackled tough issues. The author uses this story to open our eyes to the socioeconomic, racial, and gender inequalities. She brings them to light for us and through her characters, shows how they can impact one for a lifetime. The problem with alcohol is prevalent with the character of Alex Townsend. Again, the author gives a clear picture of what a family goes through when one is afflicted with this addiction.
Overall, I give this novel a 4 out of 4 stars. Ironbark Hill is well written with no obvious spelling or grammatical errors. Even though the novel is set in the 1950’s, it sheds light on issues in our world today. I would recommend Ironbark Hill to any reader who likes a story with a strong female character and full of emotion.
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