In brief: Every year, Angela sends a happy, positive Christmas letter to everyone. Except this year, when she pours out her true feelings about what a mess the family is in. Little does she know that it will get worse before getting better…
The good: Brilliantly plotted, there’s never a dull moment.
The not-so-good: Leaving the wonderful Gillespies at the end of the book.
Publisher: Michael Joseph (Penguin)
Setting: Australia, New York City, London and Ireland
My rating: 9.5 out of 10
I finished reading Hello From the Gillespies less than an hour ago and I’m already writing my review for it, which is odd for me. Normally I sit and think about my reviews for a day or two before putting fingers to keyboard, but this is an exceptionally well crafted story set in a beautiful part of outback South Australia that I want to share with you now.
I’m a big fan of Monica McInerney’s books, having read nearly all of them and love the way they envelope family, love and overcoming adversity in a range of Australian settings often crossed with some international jet setting. She’s not afraid of the tearjerker ending (The Alphabet Sisters still resonates with me) or doing her characters some damage. Added together, this makes for a wonderful read where the chunkier the book is, the happier I am (more reading time)!
Hello From the Gillespies (not surprisingly) follows the Gillespie family, who live on an outback sheep station called Errigal in South Australia. It’s a beautiful, isolated area but things are not going well for the family at present. As matriarch Angela sits down to write her Christmas email (you know the type – only full of good news and makes your family sound inferior) when she draws a blank. What good can she write this year? Her husband, Nick, spends all his time talking to a woman in Ireland about his family history and her son Ig has an imaginary friend at the age of ten. Her adult daughters have all spectacularly failed (Lindy – a number of bad job moves and a drunken internet shopping rampage have resulted in tonnes of cushion material being delivered; Victoria slept with the king of Sydney radio which ended in on air disaster and her sacking and Genevieve caused a television production set to close) and are set to return home. Angela is constantly plagued by headaches. Maybe if she lets it out on paper, she can find some way to improve things…
When the letter becomes common knowledge, things only seem to get worse for the family. But when Angela, the glue of the family, is taken away, they need to learn how to deal with what life doles out and stay strong. Can they do it, or will the family fracture forever?
I loved this novel. With such a motley cast of characters, there’s never a dull moment. Young Ig is absolutely gorgeous and twins Genevieve and Victoria are bossy but fun. I didn’t warm to Lindy so much – she spends most of the book whinging and whining and the rest bursting into tears. Her romantic subplot ended so unexpectedly that I wondered if McInerney wanted to give her a shake of sense! Nick is quiet and serious, and it’s only later that we get to see deeply into his head, but his reason for withdrawal is revealed quite early on. I felt this was to make him a more likeable character, rather than remain the enigma that Angela feels he’s become. As for Angela, we see into her head right from the start – her frustrations, worry for her family and wonder at what it would have been like if she’d married her London sweetheart instead of living in the Aussie outback. She’s tired and bewildered at what is left of her marriage. At this time, the family is acting as individuals, rather than together but everyone still pours out their woes to Angela.
When something happens to Angela (I’m not revealing what, but yes, there are meant to be two blank pages near the middle), the family has to sink or swim. Genevieve realises this instantly and begins to draw everyone in, taking charge. Victoria follows her lead and Ig does his best, but Nick is still haunted by the contents of the Christmas letter and Lindy is still annoyingly self-absorbed. It takes time, but all of the Gillespie children realise that their Mum is not someone to whinge to and dole out money, but a real person with needs. For Nick, it’s a trip overseas that results in a meeting with a person from Angela’s past that allows him to see he does love her in the same way. Will the family get their happy endings? I’m not telling, but this is a beautiful story about an everyday, average family through their ups and downs.
Grab a seat and read this book as the time and pages will fly by. It’s an enjoyable read that will have you thinking about the content of your Christmas email/letter this year!