Author: Eliza Henry-Jones
In 2015 we reviewed In The Quiet which was the beautifully written debut of the talented Eliza Henry-Jones, she went straight onto my watch list and I jumped at the chance to review her second novel Ache.
Henry-Jones has a background in grief, loss and trauma counselling which, I think, adds weight and depth to the situations she tackles in he writing. Ache is a story of rebuilding after a devastating bushfire but it’s about more than rebuilding homes and the town; it’s about rebuilding people, families and relationships as well.
Annie was in her childhood mountaintop home with her grandmother and her young daughter when a devastating bushfire ripped through leaving Annie’s world in tatters. There were many homes and lives lost in the fire, no-one in the area was left untouched. Annie was with her grandmother and young daughter when the fires hit and the only way out was on the back of her beloved horse with her daughter, leaving her grandmother behind and ending up the face of the fires in the media.
The house she grew up in with her mother and grandmother isn’t damaged by the fire, but the wind that accompanied it tips a tree that takes out half of the house, and her grandmother. The wind and the fires are all wrapped up together in the events that destroyed the lives of so many.
Directly after the fires Annie returned to her city home briefly before helping her uncle search the mountain for injured animals, leaving her daughter in the city with her husband while she returns to the mountain.
A year later Annie is at home with Tom and Pip but nothing is as it was. Tom and Annie are drifting apart, Annie is sleepwalking and Pip has not recovered from the trauma of the fires. Annie heads back to the mountain, taking Pip with her. The two are still suffering but Annie needs to be with her mum, and she hopes that being back there will help them heal.
I really enjoyed Ache, it didn’t put me quite as far under it’s spell as I expected but I think that has more to do with my life at the moment than the story. I had hoped for a long weekend that was very big on reading time but it didn’t quite turn out that way.
There are so many beautiful facets to this story that I’m not sure where to begin. Grief is a very personal thing, we all deal with it in our own way and there is no right or wrong way to get through it. Henry-Jones shows us grief in different forms through these characters and how they cope and move forward.
Each of these characters had an aching heart and grieving process to move through, different aches and different griefs that lead to working through much older grievances and working through issues full circle. There wasn’t a character I didn’t like, that I didn’t feel for.
Annie is working through a lot of guilt mixed in with her grief and her time back on the mountain after the fire offers a new perspective and allows her to look at her whole life through different eyes. There were times that I was left questioning how much I liked Annie. She’s struggling with the distance forming between her and her husband and we learn a lot about their relationship throughout the years. The arrival of her childhood best friend and first love left me always wondering where that would go and what it would mean for her vows, it would certainly be a tricky situation; especially with emotions still running high after the fire.
Pip was the character who completely entranced me. She’s a six year old girl suffering anxiety caused by the fire. She is withdrawn, clingy and needs both a security scarf and to hide behind a new name. Life back on the mountain could be extremely damaging in this situation; forcing her to see the scars on the land every single day and be reminded of all that was lost. OR she could feel safe enough to start slowly emerging from her shell.
Lyrebirds played a significant part in the storyline of Ache and it occurs to me that I am not very familiar with the bird but it must be quite a significant species because they do feature quite prominently in fiction. Maybe that’s not quite the way to put it but as a species they seem to get more page time than I have noticed any other birds get. Lyrebirds are mimics, they can replicate any sound they hear but they are also quite reclusive and not often seen. Annie and her Uncle Len have been following a group of them on the mountain for years and there is much searching for them in the wake of the fires, hoping that they will return.
The fire destroyed so much and the community has to rebuild, but it’s not just the property loss or the loss of life. Now they are dealing with insurance, or lack of, and the media outlets that want to exploit the situation. So much loss, so much emotion, so much community spirit and still so much anger.
Ache is a story of rejuvenation, of finding what was lost, of moving through grief and letting go of the past and it’s a story of redemption. It was a poignant story that tugged at my heart strings but it also carried a vein of humour and wit that made me giggle. Perhaps that was just because I too have children that sit and listen to all the inappropriate language and store it for later use.
It is often said that the sophomore novel is scarier to release than the debut because this time round you have something to be compared to, well I don’t think Eliza Henry-Jones has anything to be afraid of. Ache is touching, engaging and entertaining; Henry-Jones has honed her craft and I look forward to seeing what she comes up with next.
Ache is book #26 for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2017.