ACHE

Eliza Henry-Jones
Published by Harper Collins 4th Estate. 

RRP $29.99

What to do when you have left your place in the world, and land in a city which is so unfamiliar that you can’t settle? And, what to do when your special place has tried to kill you and your child, and has succeeded in killing your beloved Gran? Your place has become so devastated that hardly anything is familiar now, and the  previously magnificent mountain trees now are like skeletons. The fire so ravaged the place that everything loved seems to have disappeared. Her Gran is dead, her elusive lyre birds have probably gone for good, and the fire that changed everything is said to have been started by her first love.

Annie has been living a half life for the last 12 months, as she lives away from the mountain where she grew up.  She left the mountain years before to become a vet, but in all that time, she could still remember her special places and special people that patterned her childhood. She still visited her family and friends up on the mountain when she could. She wanted her daughter to have the mountain as her special place as well. But everything changed on that last summer visit, when the fire swept up the mountain, destroying lives and homes, and taking her childhood places with it. She dreads the summer winds, and tenses at the sounds of the city which are so like the sound of the wind roaring with the fire. Annie has become famous as the face of the devastation, as the  photo of her, riding her horse, Luna, with her daughter, down the mountain, with the fire raging all around, is the iconic picture of the disaster.

Pip has been traumatised by the fire, and both mother and daughter need to find some sort of connection again with real life, and with Annie’s past and her future. Relationships have been fractured for quite a while. Mother/daughter; Susan and Annie, husband/wife; Annie and Tom; mother/daughter; Annie and Pip; past friendship/lovers; Annie and Alex. The steady relationships for Annie are with her Uncle Len and his wife, and her best friend Rosie. The mountain rainforest is full of magic. When Annie was little, tramping the tracks of green with Len, hunting the lyrebirds – their hidden calls- he told her stories about bunyips and fairies. He had told her stories about trees that were hundreds of year old, and herbs that could make you healthy the way medicine could.  The mountain trees are very special to Annie, she imagines them to have their own songs, different for each species.

Annie needs to resolve her relationship with her mum, and find out if her marriage can be salvaged. Her sadness and fear around the loss of her mountain have affected her responses. She has become detached from Tom, and is very worried about Pip’s new habits, like clutching a green scarf all the time, insisting that she be called Philip, and throwing tantrums regularly. Annie decided that she and Pip must spend some time back on the blackened mountain, to try to resolve her feeling about being out of place, and to try to build a relationship with her mum. Susan was not like other mothers. Annie knows this. Susan was too young to have a child and, as Annie grew up, they squabbled more like sisters than mother and daughter…… Annie supposes things would have been different had she and Susan lived away from the mountain. But her mother had long been in statis. She has stayed a teenager long into her adult years.

Gran was the mother figure for Annie, she was one who tended the wounds and taught her how to cook and tend the garden. Uncle Len was the father figure, and Annie didn’t have a need to find her actual father. Now, back on the mountain again, the three females ( Susan, Annie and Pip) begin to reflect the past three female relationships (Glady (gran), Susan and Annie). Pip takes to Susan and gravitates to the rhythm of Susan’s interests. Her bees, her duck and dog and her art. Annie is the one who is left out, just like Susan was in the trio of the past.  Gradually, Pip becomes less fearful, and begins to expand her personality and enjoys with relish the life on the mountain. Annie takes time to reflect upon her life before the fire, and begins to fit into the community life of the town. There is trauma all around, however, and so much anger towards Alex because of the fire. She (Annie) is flushed and skittish, and is unsettled seeing Alex, particularly seeing him in the forest. If she had seen him in the city, she knows that it would have felt very different. In the city, she is cemented into the shape of a different person. Out here, after the fires, she feels that lines of herself become like water.

Rose says to Annie that people  have either a special place or a special person. But Annie needs to find both her special place and her special person. Can the place be her beloved mountain, or has it changed so much that she can’t remember it accurately? Can that special person be Tom, or might it be Alex?  Annie trailed out into the parking lot. She tried to think of Tom, of Pip, but they felt so far away. The mountain always consumed her like this, as though the years she spent away from it were a strange, unhappy dream. The resolution of all the issues that need to be confronted and overcome in Annie’s life, are slowly unfolded and revealed in the book. It really is a wonderful expression of the emotions around people and place that can have such an impact on one’s life.

CG.

Eliza Henry Jones

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