Happy Sunday my dearlings!
Today, I am going to review a book of a rather different genre. One that you may not have seen from me before, or if you have, not in a goodly long while. My most recent read…..was contemporary fiction.
Contemporary fiction!! Moreover, it was Australian contemporary fiction! Who am I even?
In all seriousness though, one of my goals this year was to try and read more widely than I ordinarily do. “But CJ,” you may be saying, “isn’t that why you do the PopSugar Reading Challenge every year? Because the prompts force you to read more widely?” And honestly, yes they do. HOWEVER: I am a Slytherin, and when I am in a time crunch (as I have been for the last twelve years or so and likely will be for at least several more) I am very, very good at finding way of fulfilling those prompts which don’t require me to read anything totally out of my comfort zone.
I said what I said.
So, when I was contacted about reviewing Home Fires for Fiona Lowe, I was actually really happy about it. First of all, that somebody thought it would be a nice idea to ask me to review a book for them. Second of all, I actually liked the sound of it, and it was a genre that I never, ever read! Smashing them 2019 goals and it’s only February!
Now, the book. As I mentioned, the book I was offered for review is called Home Fires, by Fiona Lowe. It contains multiple plot lines, but the overall structure is based on the lives of three particular women, the way they interact with each other and the way the react and respond to the world around them. You see, these women are dealing with the consequences of a devastating bushfire, and that is extremely confronting. For anyone that doesn’t live in Oz (or, you know, California), bushfires are a very real and potentially fatal danger that Australians face every year. I had my closest brush last year, which all things considered makes me very lucky. The bushfire in question was about 20 kilometres from my apartment, and eventually grew to over 200 hectares in size. I had my go-bag packed in case of evacuation orders.
This was a very stressful time not just for me, but also for my friends and family. My closest friend where I live had organized a plan of what would happen if the fires got any closer (basically, she’d pick me up and, with the rest of her family, we’d flee); my parents wanted updates every hour or so as to what was happening and how I was; I was constantly updating the news pages monitoring the event. So, to read a book about what happens when bushfires actually tea through communities in a massive way, razing forests and houses and towns and causing fatalities, was very, very confronting. This honestly is one of the reasons I rarely read contemporary fiction; as I often tell my bookish friends, I see enough of the worst of humanity in my research, I see no reason to spend my free time reading about it!
So did I enjoy the book? I don’t honestly know if I did, or if that is the right word to describe my reaction to it. In addition to the overarching theme of response to fire devastation, there were sub-plots that involved mental, emotional and physical abuse, which are extremely difficult topics. However, it also contained psychological and emotional character development; women supporting other women; women who succeed in professional settings and women who succeed at being stay-at-home parents. I will say that the book is excellently written. Fiona Lowe has managed to write characters that I feel I have actually met, about whom I could think of as real people. She also managed to weave in more light-hearted scenes, like community BBQs or Carols by Candlelight festivities that really resonated because I grew up living these scenes and it really is rare to see reflections of Australia in a novel. Well, for me it is. Because I don’t usually read books like this. Ahem. So the book was very well-written; the characters were so believable that I found myself unbelievably pissed off and incredibly protective, incandescently furious and hysterically content at turns.
There is one theme I will so annoyed me, and that is the idea that a woman may not want kids now but that attitude will inevitably change. As someone who has never wanted biological children (I’ve said since I was eleven years old that were I ever to decide that I do want children, I would adopt and that is that), it really grinds my gears that for a majority of the book, one of the main characters wrestles with the problem and then the consequences to her relationship of no longer wanting children with her partner, for a variety of reasons. And yet, in the epilogue, she is pregnant with twins and happy about it. That infuriated me.
Overall, I will say that I am glad I read the book. I will even recommend it to people I know who enjoy contemporary and/or Australian fiction. Would I read another book of this genre? I’m honestly not certain, but I am glad to have read this one. Books should engage your interest, make you respond. Reading shouldn’t be an apathetic activity, and a book that you wrestled with is not something you come across every day.
If you like this genre, or would also like to start reading contemporary and/or Australian fiction, give this a try and then come tell me what you thought!
Disclaimer: this book was provided to me in exchange for an honest review. As ever, my opinions are my own and the provenance of a title has no effect on what I think about the content.
Image credits: my photo, of my copy of the book.