Book Club: Facing The Flame

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Author: Jackie French
ISBN: 9781460753200
RRP: $29.99
Publisher: HarperCollins
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.

Jackie French can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and her website.

Facing The Flame is published by HarperCollins and is available now from Angus & Robertson Bookworld, Booktopia and where all good books are sold.

Thanks to HarperCollins 10 of our Beauty and Lace Club members will be reading Facing The Flame so please be aware there may be spoilers in the comments below.


12 thoughts on “Book Club: Facing The Flame

  1. I often don’t want a book to end. Not so often do I tear up, rarely do I sob and almost never do I spontaneously indulge in crying and sobbing numerous times in one novel. This book I did all.
    Not because it is a sad book – it isn’t.
    But bushfires and rural Australian communities together are heartbreaking.

    Facing the Flames, however, is, above all else, hopeful and endearing and thoughtful and respectful.

    With many characters, 99% of whom are admirable and real and all who are worthwhile, it took me a while to grab who’s who and how they’re related. The secondary characters I only finally ‘ got’ by the end. That is me though, I think. (Sort of wish there was a page with list of characters !!)
    And also a map of the area. I couldn’t quite imagine the world. Couldn’t quite get where the creek was, the homesteads were, what they really looked like, how far from town they were. I appreciate and like that information, that depth of description and feel the book could have done with a little more ‘world-building’. As a relatively short book – only 288 pages- there was definitely space for it.

    I enjoyed Jacki Frenchs’ latest historical fiction (‘Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies – fabulous btw), her children’s books and attended an authors talk with her earlier this year- and need to say : I am a fan. I trust her research. I trust her writing.

    And as a ‘Townie’ who desperately wants to get ‘back’ to the bush, this book makes real the absolute devastation a bushfire brings, the essential precautions property owners and workers must employ, the stupidity of the ‘white fellas’ bush burn off and the immaculate and thorough ways country folk not only stick together but also, of course, the know-when-‘each other sneeze’- attitude.

    I would have loved more indigenous knowledge to be shared, ‘ mosaic burning ‘ in particular. Once again, it’s a short book: there is definitely space for an extra few lines of description.

    There is a very creepy psychopath character which, due to my own personal disposition I skimmed only. I guess there has to be one character in the book to despise. I guess.

    As I received a copy that was an ‘uncorrected reading copy’ only and ‘not for ‘review’ I am unsure what eventually will be left out or what will be added but a question of importance was never answered. Also the most ridiculous and unyielding ‘politically correct’ term was used regularly. It shows either absurdity at the length PC has dribbled to or the wonderfully good sense of humour the author has. I do hope it is the latter because if it isn’t she does a great disservice to the many, much needed, ‘pc’ changes that have taken hold in this 21st C.
    I loved the book (and apart from the stooped ‘pc’ bit) would highly recommend it. I
    I would love to give it as a gift to my mother as she is a farm girl and also a trainer of the specific breed of dog (who is a wonderful character in the book). But with the ludicrous ‘pc’ -ness I know she would throw the book ‘into the fire’ with a spray of cynical ‘Good Lord, this worlds’ gone mad’ .
    I liked the ‘old bushies trick’ of leaving a cup of tea on the window sill to heat up. I’ve never heard of it before and will ask about it next time I am ‘out bush’ but I do know my farm girl Mother has fried eggs in the sun before so it very well likely could be true!
    A very good book. With a few more paragraphs ( and of course that most goofy pc-ness gone) it could have been a great book.

    1. P.S: Since posting this above review, I have realized this book is, in fact, part of a series. The greater ‘world-building’ detail I so wanted, is no doubt within the previous books.
      My P.C. rant also came in for some enlightenment from other reader pov.
      What I saw as ott political correctness, another reader saw as a personalization of the wonderful dog. This possibly is what Ms French was enjoying with her remarks.
      I’ll own it

  2. I did not realise that Jackie French’s “Facing The Flame” was a part of a series. As a novel, it can be read as its own stand-alone story. French is a prolific author of books for children and adults.

    “Facing The Flame” seems destined to be a great summer read as we Aussies face long, dry days and the bushfire season. In French’s case, the novel is set around a township called Gibber’s Creek in the late 1970s. She has put together a strong ensemble cast featuring real and complex characters. For some of these individuals there is a lot of history there and for others demons that must be fought. There are also some characters that are all about new beginnings and the opportunities that lie on the metaphorical horizon. I could say more but I fear that would spoil the story.

    This book is a delightful slice of Australiana and is a reminder of what can be lost in the blink of a flame. It is ultimately quite powerful stuff and yet another excellent book by this beloved, Australian author.

    As a side note- if you want a fantastic new children’s book by Jackie French I can wholeheartedly recommend “Koala Bare.” It is my pick for best picture book of this year.

  3. On reading this novel, I found it really hard to connect with the characters and trying to work out who was who and who was related to each other. It wasn’t until Chapter 18 that my attention in reading the book took over and I was wanting to read more. I then had to reread the beginning again to then know a bit more of the characters again. I still found myself flipping back a few times.

    Some of the character names were familiar to me and it wasn’t till I finished the book and picked up my copy of To love a Sunburnt Country that I realised some of the characters were in that book. I would not have known on reading this book that it might have been a following on to it with Facing the Flame.

    Chapter 18 as mentioned above is when I really got into the character of Jed, Scarlett and Sam. There are many other characters that will touch your heart as you read more.

    Reading how the fire started and spread is really devastating as I’ve been in that situation of fires threatening your community and home. The characters in this book are all worthy and courageous and they all have a deep love for family and friends in their community. That’s why the saying Friends are the family we choose means so much to me whenever I hear it.

    As always there is a character called Merv who is a piece of nasty work and I found myself wanting to read more and more as to how this all panned out. The adrenalin kicks in when he is on the scene too.
    Whenever there are these devastating fires, there are also emotional scenes that you are never prepared for. Yes, I found myself reaching for that tissue.

    The book that I have read is an uncorrected reading copy so maybe some chapters will be rewritten giving a bit more understanding at the beginning of the characters. Apart from that, I did love the book and did enjoy reading it once I got the concept of the characters.

    Thanks Beauty and Lace and Harper Collins for the opportunity to read this book.

  4. Jackie French, the author of Facing the Flame, is a national treasure. She is an author of an extensive range of books, across a variety of genres. I know her work best through her children’s picture books that I have read both to my children and my kindergarten students. Her latest, Facing the Flame, is the 7th instalment in the popular Matilda saga. Although I have only read one other book in this saga, I firmly believe this book does stand on its own and can easily be read in isolation to the previous books in the series.

    My immediate impression of this novel was that it is one very well researched book and a powerful yarn, clearly drawn from French’s first hand experiences. In fact, I recently read an interview with the author to celebrate the publication of this novel in a popular Australian magazine. I discovered a number of noteworthy facts about the author of Facing the Flame from this article that certainly extended my reading of this novel. I discovered that Facing the Flame is based on French’s personal and own father’s experiences dealing with bushfires. It is clear the land and the bush runs through French’s roots. Facing the Flame is a novel that is unafraid to show the reader the raw truth to the devastation caused by one of our nation’s biggest threats, fire.

    French is a novelist who has a firm handle on her character list. Facing the Flame features an array of characters, both main and periphery, who all contribute well to this compelling story. It took me awhile to get a firm handle on who was who character wise, but once I had this set the story flowed. As a suggestion, I would have liked a character list in the front of the book to assist me in the early stages of reading this novel. For me personally, I developed an attachment to the character of Jed. Her story was quite incredible! Jed’s story also allows French to incorporate a side theme of suspense. The villain of the story is introduced to the fold through Jed’s narrative and this story thread encouraged me to flick through the pages of Facing the Flame quickly indeed. I also feel I must acknowledge the presence of the bushfire in this novel, it is quite overwhelming. At the close of most chapters in this book, there is a reference to the encroaching fire. It made me feel a strong sense of unease, through French’s vivid prose and at the same time, it gave me an appreciation of the full force of fire, especially in our bush areas.

    Facing the Flame is a book defined by many moments of stunning prose and realistic dialogue. The pace is steady throughout, with the action building nearer the close of the novel. In terms of setting, French is able to bring the time frame (late 1970’s) to the audience very well indeed. Her main locale, a fictional bush based township named Gibber’s Creek, came alive before my eyes while reading this novel. This indicates the talent and power of French’s writing. Finally, Facing the Flame is a very accessible book that I encourage both adults and younger readers (14+) to take up to read, you will not be disappointed.

    My final word on Facing the Flame is that I appreciated this novel very much. I felt moved by the intensity of the subject area – bushfires and the endurance, as well as the heroism, displayed by the characters of Gibber’s Creek. Facing the Flame is an inspiring and rousing novel that served to remind me of the powerful inferno force of Mother Nature – bushfire. My reading of Facing the Flame has promoted me to check my sagging book shelves, to see if I can catch up on the previous stories in this addictive historical fiction series over the summer holiday period.

    *I wish to thank Beauty & Lace and the publisher, Harper Collins Australia for a copy of this book for review.

  5. Another great offering from Jackie French. Through tragedy comes amazing stories.

    Although as a city girl, I do find it hard to relate to many of the scenarios, but I can absolutely appreciate the devastation. Jackie describes the town and the people in great realistic detail. She absolutely does her research and it really does make her novels shine.

    So many characters and one or two that I could personally have done without. But I do understand her reasoning behind inclusion.

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I am sure there will be a huge audience for it.

  6. “Facing the Flame” is a novel by Jackie French an award winning writer. I was unaware at first that this book was part of a series, but I felt that it can be read as a stand- alone story.

    When I started reading the novel I found it quite difficult to connect with the characters and took quite some time to work out who was who and who was related to who. I found it took me till about half way through the story that I started to get a feel for the story and what was happening.

    Set in Gibber’s Creek in the late 1970’s, it’s a story of courage and community even when everyone’s life is put at danger by a bushfire. The whole community fights together to save their community because of their love of the land. This love has been passed down through the generations of families.

    This book was not really for me, but I would still highly recommend as it is well written and I am a particular fan of books about anywhere in Australia.

  7. Facing the Flame by Jackie French was for me a really enjoyable read.
    I was among the group of readers that had no idea that this book is one in a series and i gather that if I had read the previous books I would have had a connection with the characters straight away. It did take me a little while to work out who was who and how they were all connected but once I got there I was up and running. I loved that this story was something very different and is based around a small community and how they cope with a major bush fire and how the fire changes lives.
    I dont feel that you have to read the previous books to be able to read this one but I gather the previous books might fill in a couple of gaps within the story that left me wondering and now has me wanting to purchase the previous books so I can answer a couple of my questions.
    A really wonderful read.

  8. This is the first book of Jackie French’s that I have read and I did enjoy her style.
    As others have noted, it did take me a while to work out who was who and who was related to who but in the midst of the storyline, it almost seemed secondary to know this anyway!
    I must admit, I actually enjoyed the protagonist, they were so real and I think we all know one, it leant more realness to the niceness of the other characters. Of course the crimes that were committed were unacceptable but the rawness of it and how it was related and told was [speaking form experience] very accurate and real.
    I was able to follow the theme without having read other titles in the series, can certainly be enjoyed as a stand alone book.
    A timely reminder about the real and devastating destruction that bushfires bring but also the life that springs from the blackened earth. Maybe a metaphor for all that happens in their lives as well?

  9. I’m another who did not realise this was part of a series. I don’t think it matters though as it read ok as a stand alone novel. I found this novel to be incredibly difficult to get into, I didn’t connect with the characters and found the way they were written difficult to connect. This book was a real challenge personally. The content and description of the Australian landscapes were beautiful, almost poetic. There are some incredible pieces of writing, however it was not enough to counter the confusion and lack of interest in the characters. This is the first adult fiction I have read from this author, and I found it a bit disappointing when compared to my experiences of her childrens fiction.

  10. Facing The Flame written by Jackie French, showcases the impact of a natural disaster on the small township of Gibbler’s Creek in the late 1970’s. The book is developed via the growth of a bush fire, from the small initial sparks to an uncontrollable and relentless fire. The development of the fire kind of sits parallel to the development of characters and moves at the same pace.

    Each new chapter explores the storyline of a different character. At first I did find this a little disjointed, as I was just getting into one story when it suddenly changes over. As I continued to read I was able to make connections between the characters, especially once the bushfires begins. Although as it ended I found myself with questions, I will stop here, as I don’t want to post any spoilers.

    In particular I enjoyed how Jackie French captured the true essence of mate-ship and the Aussie spirit present in a community in a time of crisis.

    Reading the other reviews I can now see this is part of a series, perhaps some of the questions I had at the end of the book will be addressed by Jackie French at some stage in the future.

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