The good: Barbara Hannay’s stories are the calorie-free version of a chocolate bar – rich and satisfying.
The not-so-good: The fallout from the big reveal was tied up quickly and neatly.
Why I chose it: It’s Barbara Hannay! Thanks to Penguin Australia for the eARC.
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Setting: Rural Queensland, Australia
My rating: 9 out of 10
I always look forward to a Barbara Hannay novel because her books tick so many of the right boxes for me. The Grazier’s Wife practically ticks them all – a family secret, dual timelines, romance, Australian rural setting and well written. It’s no wonder I powered through this book in just a few days.
The book opens with a bang both in the past and the present. The first grazier’s wife Stella looks to be in trouble and she does what she considers a terrible thing. Then we move to the current day as Seth, the current grazier’s son is working on the family property. He has very few cares in the world – his parents are on a well-deserved holiday and he’s enjoying his work. Then a former short-term girlfriend appears, baby in arms. Little Charlie is now his as she’s going home to marry her fiancé. Seth cops it on the chin and immediately becomes man of the district as he looks after little Charlie as a single dad. Things look sweet again for the Drummond family as life settles into a new routine but when Jackie, Seth’s mum decides to get the family sideboard resilvered, she shakes up Drummond history in a way that nobody expects. Hidden behind the mirror is Stella’s diary of life as a nurse in Singapore and her ‘dreadful’ secret revealed.
The narrative then moves between past and present day as Stella’s life in Singapore during World War II is revealed. How she came to marry Magnus Drummond is revealed as Jackie reflects on her own perceived shortcomings in social status. But it’s Alice, she works on repairing the sideboard who captivates Seth. Alice has her own past that she believes will prevent anything long term with Seth. Can the women move through their problems and the family survive the reveal of Stella’s secret?
Barbara Hannay’s books are always comforting and captivating for me. I love the way that history and the present are tangled together and the characters are always fascinating. Not just Seth, who is the bachelor of the district (seriously, this guy has few flaws) but Stella could have easily had her own book. Her stories in war time were very interesting, particularly as I have an interest in Far North Queensland and Singapore during that time. Alice is wonderfully complex with a lot to work through and it’s pleasing to see her growth throughout the story.
The big secret didn’t quite end up the way I thought it would (which I like, because surprises are good). I feel though that the way the family dealt with the reveal was a bit mixed. It was a really big deal, which I expected. Then Jackie had some practical ideas, which I thought was a good step. Then we had some falling out with Hugh Drummond’s sister, which I thought was a bit petty, but incredibly sweet-natured on Hugh’s behalf. Then everyone calmed down and started to work things out, then it was solved very quickly. So quickly that the Drummond family announced their intentions the very next day. It just seemed to be tied up very neatly, very fast for me. Perhaps the Drummonds are a quick-decision family and the forthcoming party was the next thing on their minds! It certainly didn’t ruin the story for me, but I did feel a little bit, ‘so this is it?!’. I got my happily ever after so I can’t complain too much!
Overall, The Grazier’s Wife is warm and engaging – just what you want to read during a cold winter.