In brief: After Lucy receives a mysterious letter from her grandfather, she jumps at the chance to return home to Melbourne. She has unfinished business, and now a family mystery to try to solve…
The good: Liked how the past and present were interwoven.
The not-so-good: A few too many plot threads at the start for me to keep track of.
Why I chose it: Thanks to Simon & Schuster for the ARC.
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Setting: Victoria, Australia
My rating: 7.5 out of 10
I am an absolute sucker for novels that combine the past and present – even better if there’s a crumbling old house, a multigenerational family mystery and some skeletons in the closet. Anna Romer’s new novel, Beyond the Orchard ticks all of those boxes for me. After a slow start, I was rewarded for my perseverance with a rollicking mystery.
The book opens in Melbourne in the early 1990s. Lucy has returned home to think some things through. She’s engaged to a great man and her work life as an illustrator for her father’s books is going really well. But something seems to be missing and an evasive letter from her grandfather means it’s time to come home. There are quite a few demons from the past for Lucy to contend with at home – the death of her mother, awkward relationship with her father and the lost love of Morgan, who happens to be her dad’s friend and father to the boy who had a teenage crush on Lucy. (Who is now in a relationship with Lucy’s best friend Nina – yes, it’s tangled).
Lucy’s grandfather dies before she can ask him more about the mysterious letter. After her own father is taken ill, he asks Lucy to go to the family property, Bitterwood, to retrieve a photo album that holds memories for him. Lucy reluctantly goes, but it’s her own mystery that she’s particularly interested in. It’s not going to be an easy one to unravel and it will take assistance from Morgan and others. Will Lucy find her own peace by discovering the truth of her family’s history?
I did enjoy Beyond the Orchard, but it took me some time to get into. Initially I felt rather swamped by the relationships between Lucy, her father and Wilma, his new partner. Then adding in the awkward reunion with Morgan and the complex, teenage love backstory…it was almost a relief to get into the past with Lucy’s grandfather Edwin. I enjoyed that aspect of the plot – the history was beautifully brought to light and the character of Orah, shipwreck survivor, was delightful. Her friendship with Wirra and Nala as she blossomed with Edwin and Clarice was one of the highlights of the book for me. Reading about their fates made me quite emotional – it was truly heartbreaking.
I enjoyed jumping backwards and forwards in time with the story. It was easy to keep track of what was going on in the past but I felt the complexity of Lucy’s relationships detracted somewhat from her story. Yes, she’s mixed up and got a lot of things to think through but having all her relationships in disrepair was a bit much for me. Sometimes it seemed like the only positive relationship she had was with her cat! I didn’t feel that I could always rely on her as a reliable narrator. Having the excerpts from her father’s book was an interesting concept as he tried to decipher his relationship with Edwin. There were also parallels with what was happening to Orah and Clarice at the time, plus the symbolism of the silkworms.
Beyond the Orchard is an ambitious book that tries to cover a lot and is for the most part, successful. I felt at times, especially in relation to Lucy, a bit overwhelmed with the complexities of the relationships between the characters. It is an easy read, and once you begin to find out more about Bitterwood, you’ll be engrossed.
I read Beyond the Orchard as part of a blog tour – please do check out the other stops for Q&A with Anna, reviews and much more.