Author: Jackie French
Copy: Courtesy of the Publisher
Jackie French is a prolific Australian author talented across a number of genres, a number of very different genres. I haven’t read a lot of her work but hers is certainly a name that I know well.
Facing The Flame is a story targeted to both teens and adults. I thought this was a stand alone genre crossover novel set in the late 1970s. It turns out that it is a book connected to the Matilda Saga, I think the next in the series, but I don’t think that is going to matter. I haven’t read the Matlida Saga, though I have read book four which we book clubbed back in 2015; To Love A Sunburnt Country was set in 1942, in the midst of a war. The books in the Matilda Saga take a look at Australia’s history and are named for iconic songs. The last book was supposed to be the last of the series so this may well be a stand alone book featuring the places and the characters of the Matilda Saga.
I truly believe that Facing the Flame is going to stand convincingly regardless of how familiar you are with the series.
Facing The Flame is a story of strong and courageous characters that feel a deep connection to their community, their family, their friends and the land. They are in touch with their history and are connected to the land through teachings passed down through the generations. The characters have faced hardship, some will always have to work harder than most to achieve their dreams, and they come from a very multi-cultural background. We only find out what French tells us about the characters so on more than one occasion we got almost halfway through the book before we discovered the racial heritage of a character; sometimes that is because we are coming in at the end of the series but I think I found it the same in To Love a Sunburnt Country. I think I loved this about the writing style because it showed that French didn’t allow her characters to be defined by their racial history. In a time in history that race was an important defining factor of people and what they could achieve French chooses to write characters that aren’t defined by their race.
The stories are fiction but I’m sure that French has kept the characters historically accurate in what they could achieve while still downplaying their race. It is very late so I apologise if this is a little rambly, I can’t quite find the words to explain what I’m trying to say so perhaps I will just move along.
Gibber’s Creek 1977 and 1978, the land is dry and those with a deep connection can see the signs. The land is ripe for bushfire and though the area has seen fires before this is something new, this is long going to leave it’s mark.
Jackie French has spent time fighting bushfires personally and spent a lot of time talking to people in the wake of the Canberra fires in 2003. French’s characters have seen their share of fires and the older generations have watched the land come back rejuvenated after fire but none have seen anything like the fires that threaten their homes, their quiet valleys and their loved ones in the summer of ’78.
Gibber’s Creek is a collector of special souls from all over; characters with drive and determination. There is a home that was begun to as a facility to help with those affected by polio but now it caters to all sorts of people who need rehabilitation. River View is a facility that offers a future to people who don’t feel like they have one and when it is threatened by flames it’s a hard loss to comtemplate.
French has written her characters beautifully, and they aren’t all human. There is a beautiful dog who is a character in her own right but the most intriguing character was that of the fire itself, written with personality and a life of its own.
Facing The Flame is a story of courage and determination; a story of community and refusing to give up. It’s certainly appropriate for both a teen and adult audience, and my 14yr old has her eye on this one to pick up next.
Facing The Flame is book #49 for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2017.