Sunday, August 7, 2011

Wildflower Hill by Kimberley Freeman

Published by Touchstone imprint of Simon & Schuster
Review based on an ARC

Kimberley Freeman has written an excellent presentation of life styles from 1929 to the present time. An interesting and historic journey through three generations of a "family" resettled in Australia from Scotland after the matriarch, as a young pregnant girl, runs away with her married sweetheart and father of her child.

The novel begins in Glasgow, 1929. Innocent Beattie, trying to help support the family as a teen, has been working in a dress-shop and is an excellent seamstress, able to make expensive-looking clothing out of unused, and sometimes used, materials. She also works in a restaurant, or rather she did, until the sons of the owner introduced her to the not-quite-legal gambling club and bar upstairs. Her innocence taken advantage of by the married friend of the brothers, it is not long before Beattie finds herself pregnant by Henry, and not at all sure what she can do about it. Once she is no longer able to hide it, she loses her job at the dress-shop. To this point, she has not even told Henry. When she finally gets up her courage to tell him, he asks her to give him time and to stay away from the club in the meantime. Shortly afterward, her mother disowns her and forbids her to see her father before kicking her out of house and home with nothing but her empty purse and the clothes on her back. Desperate, she seeks out her friend from the club, who tells her of a place in the north where she can go until her baby is born. Thus, the secrets of Beattie's life begin. It is in this home that Henry finds Beattie and they run away together to Tasmania, where a friend of Henry's has promised him a job.

The book is basically told in three parts, but interspersed. When Beattie is a grandmother, she encourages her granddaughter to be what she wants to be, which happens to be a ballet dancer. Through the many years between, so much happens in Beattie's poverty-stricken life. She is ostracized when first it is discovered in Tasmania that she and Henry are not married, yet have a little girl. Henry is unable to provide for the family, and eventually returns to England and his wife, but takes their daughter Lucy with him. In dire straits, and traumatized by her loss, she gets work on a sheep ranch. Many more of the secrets of Beattie come as a result of this move. She has lost her child, her next generation.

Skipping across to her granddaughter, who has a close relationship with her grandmother, but not with her mother, we meet Emma. Emma has followed her heart and become a prima ballerina, but misfortune follows even this famous dancer. A fall marks the end of a fabulous career and Emma feels utterly devastated. She eventually goes home to Sydney, Australia. When her grandmother passes away, she learns that she has inherited a ranch in Tasmania she has never heard of. The stipulation is that she has to live there for a period of time. Beattie knew that there would come a day when Emma would need this.

This book brings so much within its pages. Love, loss, tragedy, poverty and riches. It brings to life the inner strength of women, the strength that comes when required. A rich history of mores, life, changing times, and obstacles overcome. I really enjoyed this book, if enjoy is the word for such tragedy and poverty, but it is so well-written, so historic, so meaningful. Emma's search for the true story of her grandmother's life fills in the rest of the book and opens a new world of wonder to her own life. A strong story, well centred in its various time periods, and very descriptive. A fascinating and powerful read.

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