Author: Anna Romer
Beyond the Orchard is the third suspenseful offering from Australian Anna Romer, I have read all three and loved them all.
A tale of dark family secrets, buried for decades, and told in multiple time periods this is one that I found very difficult to put down. There are two distinct times, past and present, but we have a couple of different periods within those two times.
Lucy Briar left home years ago and moved to London, running from an awkward situation with an unrequited love. In London she met her fiance and they have mapped out a life together, until Lucy receives a letter from her estranged grandfather asking her to come see him. Eventually she returns home, on her own, hoping to resolve her feelings and find the answers she seeks to childhood questions.
Elements of the story have a very fairy tale type quality, and there are fairy tale references, so the choice of Briar for the family name really struck a chord in that vein for me.
Soon after her arrival home Lucy’s father suffers a fall that sees him hospitalised and her grandfather passes away. She is left reeling and wondering if she will ever get her answers. At her father’s insistence Lucy heads to the historic family guesthouse, Bitterwood Estate, to clear out her grandfathers things before the Estate is sold – and to find the photo album that created the rift between father and son.
Lucy has some traumatic memories of Bitterwood Estate and dreads returning but she knows that to find the answers she seeks she has to go. She’s not sure how she’ll get her answers now that her grandfather isn’t there to hand over whatever it was he had that would explain everything.
The quest for answers, and the album, seems overwhelming when for every inch of progress there seems to be a bigger setback. Much of the album has been reduced to ashes, and Lucy can’t find anything addressed to her from her grandfather that may hold the answers. The further she gets packing up the house the more information the house releases. The blurb says that the house begins to give up its ghosts, and it certainly does, but these are metaphorical ghosts not paranoramal ones.
Lucy was followed to Bitterwood Estate by Morgan, the man she was running from, who has come to help her get the house in order. His proximity isn’t helping her cold feet, though he certainly helps her make progress in the quest for answers.
Lucy’s father Ron is a writer, he takes fairy tales and twists them, making the villians the heroes and telling the story from a different perspective. He and Lucy are a team, she illustrates for him. There is a little bit of life experience in Ron’s retellings and none more so than the manuscript he’s just finished, that Lucy starts illustrating while she’s at Bitterwood Estate. Ron’s writing is part of his coping mechanism, he writes to work through the things in life he’s struggling with.
Beyond The Orchard is haunting and suspenseful, and it leaves you guessing. There were many times throughout that I was sure I knew what was going on, only to discover how wrong I was.
A tale of love, loss, betrayal, desire and family secrets this is not to be missed.
Lucy was a beautiful character, haunted by ghosts of her own, and always running away from something. Throughout the story we see her starting to face some of her demons so that she can move forward and stop running.
Yet again Romer has written with great depth and sincerity, a touching novel that brought me to the brink of tears on a number of occasions and one which I hope to read again one day just to see what else I pick up on that I may have missed on the first read.
Beyond the Orchard is book #57 for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2016.