Author: Kaye Dobbie
Publisher: Harlequin Mira
Copy: Courtesy of the Publisher/NetGalley
Kaye Dobbie is an Australian author with an extraordinary talent for weaving timelines and generations into a compelling and cohesive novel that is both contemporary and historical. This is the second novel I have read, with one more still on my TBR shelf awaiting a quiet time to get to it, and it seems that the dual timelines is a storytelling tool she uses often.
The dual timelines in Willow Tree Bend are not as far apart as some of her previous ones but that hasn’t changed the masterful mystery and sense of suspense built throughout the story.
Hope Taylor is a Hollywood actress suffering a stall to her career, she’s at a crossroad and decides to do a reality show back in Australia called Looking Back, a show that looks back into the pasts of those featured and brings forth the little known facts and secrets. Hope goes in expecting to be able to control what the investigators find and what goes into the show then cash in on the publicity with interviews, TV appearances and maybe even a book; all great ways to kickstart her lagging career. I can understand all of this, it makes the show seem like a good idea… but if you have secrets to hide it’s not the greatest way to get back in the limelight.
Faith Taylor is Hope’s older sister, still living in Willow Tree Bend, and working on her own line of desserts. She hasn’t always been in Willow Tree Bend though, there was a time in 1969 that she spread her wings and moved to Melbourne. The fresh-faced 17yr old Faith hit the city lights of Melbourne and worked in the infamous The Angel nightclub. She returned to Willow Tree Bend and it was never spoken of again.
Now it’s 2000 and the prodigal daughter is returning for a short time to film the reality show designed to unearth all of the family secrets, Faith gets a mysterious phone call at work and takes off to settle unfinished business; leaving everyone at home worried about her because it is extremely out of character.
The story is told from three perspectives, Hope, Faith and Samantha. Hope’s storyline is in the present, Faith tells of her time in Melbourne in 1969 and Samantha, who is Faith’s daughter, also has a present day story arc.
There is quite a lot of mystery in these pages and Dobbie weaves clues slowly through the narrative so we are left making theories, connecting dots (with half of them missing) and drawing conclusions from the paltry store of parceled out clues; only to jump to the wrong conclusions and discover that there are more secrets hidden in the Taylor closet than anyone realised.
The Taylor girls were very close growing up and they always dreamed of getting out of Willow Tree Bend together, so when Faith left for Melbourne in ’69 it put a strain on her relationship with Hope. A strain that they struggled to get back from, Hope then fled to make a career for herself and the close sisters drifted apart. Hope’s return in 2000 sees her first trip back in a decade, and it shows in her relationships with the rest of the cast.
This distance between the sisters seems reasonably normal for considering the physical distance between them, until you start to discover the true depth of their isolation from one another and the strain in the relationship between all of the family.
Willow Tree Bend is a story that I loved; the mystery of the slow unraveling secrets, the characters, the vibrant drawing of The Angel in ’69. The recurring themes in the lives of the leading ladies is interesting to note and again, Dobbie’s writing is captivating. The weaving of timelines is fluid rather than jarring and I just wanted to keep reading, I needed to uncover all of the secrets; some of which were a little predictable but some of which blew me away.
I would have liked a couple more chapters at the end to see how everything panned out and what was resolved, there were a few too many unanswered questions. I am also still not completely sold on the fact that Hope would choose to do Looking Back with the skeletons in her closet, she didn’t know about anyone else’s secrets but hers were enough that she didn’t want anyone knowing so why would you risk it… The arguments put forward as to why she did were realistic and convincing but I’m still a little sceptical.
There is an element of romance, actually there are a few elements of romance because there is romance in the life of each of our leading ladies. We see the sweet rush of first love, the enduring love of a long term relationship, the slow unfolding of attraction in people who have been burned before and the excitement of coming close to your first celebrity crush. All of the relationships were sympathetically explored and we were able to get to know the characters better because of them.
This isn’t a romance story though, the main story is one of family and mystery; a story of long held secrets coming out. It was well written, captivating, vibrant and one that I would recommend wholeheartedly.
Willow Tree Bend is book #39 for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2017.