I have to admit that Lyrebird Hill didn’t initially appeal. I’m not a fan of historical fiction or epic sagas and – stretching across a decade or two – Anna Romer’s second novel sounded a bit like the latter.
Nevertheless, I read a few glowing reviews and realised I should put aside any preconceived ideas as the book sounded quite appealing. And it most certainly was!
Ruby Cardel runs a small bookstore. She describes herself and her life as quite plain. In fact she’s still surprised she managed to snare author and vaguely famous psychologist Rob even though the pair have been seeing each other for three years.
The vastly dissimilar mother and daughter always struggled to get along, but the relationship started disintegrating after the death of Ruby’s older sister Jamie 18 years earlier. A time which has essentially been erased from Ruby’s memory, despite all attempts to recover the lost months.
Ruby’s world is rocked when she discovers Jamie did not (in fact) fall to her death as she’d been led to believe, but was murdered. And Ruby’s left with the horror that her mother and others think she may have been involved – as the pair were together at the time.
It’s a surprise to Ruby when – after seeing her mother again and being reminded of her childhood at Lyrebird Hill – she starts to remember the missing year. Determined to find out if she was responsible for her sister’s death Ruby decides to travel back to her childhood home to try to revive deeply buried memories.
As I said, I’m generally not a fan of historical fiction so it surprised me that I was just as intrigued by the parallel unfolding story of Ruby’s ancestors, including Brenna Magavin.
Brenna was devoted to her childhood home of Lyrebird Hill and (encouraged by her widowed father) had a strong connection to the Indigenous community living on ‘their’ land. Unfortunately to keep the property Brenna agrees to marry an old friend of her parents and moves from her beloved home to a new life in Tasmania – one which doesn’t work out as she’d hoped.
The two storylines never really intersect in any earth-moving way, but they evolve seamlessly in parallel.
Both women have been impacted by events which have changed their lives.
Brenna is passionate about her home and has a connection to the land and traditions she doesn’t quite understand. Ruby feels she cannot be whole and will live with guilt and regret unless she knows what happened to her sister 18 years before.
Brenna is faced with colonial and parochial attitudes popular in the late 1800s and finds both danger and support where she least expects it. Ruby starts to remember the secrets she and her sister were keeping almost two decades before.
Lyrebird Hill is beautifully written and Ruby and Brenna both came to life as I turned the pages.
I found myself very eager to discover Brenna’s story in particular. And although it didn’t feature heavily, I also loved the insight into the challenges and injustices being faced by the Indigenous community (and to a lesser extent, women) over a century ago. Some cold hard facts and reminders of a terrible history were (fortunately) imparted with a very soft and subtle touch.
Lyrebird Hill by Anna Romer was published by Simon & Schuster Australia on 1 September and is currently available in all of the usual places.
* I received a copy for review purposes from the publisher.