Saturday, February 25, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Wildflower Hill by Kimberley Freeman

My reading pace has slacked off this month for a variety of reasons, or maybe just the February doldrums. But I finally jumped back in with another book that has been on my TBR list for way too long.

Wildflower Hill by Kimberley Freeman is a intergenerational saga set primarily in Australia. We’re first introduced to Emma, the granddaughter, a prima ballerina in London. This is set in contemporary times. Emma is in her early thirties and, although she won’t admit it to herself, she is at the tail end of her career. She’s aging out. Dance is central to her life; people are peripheral, so Emma doesn’t even give any thought to what might come next. She has a boyfriend, Josh. Handsome, successful, and convenient, Josh is someone she loves desperately, but not desperately enough to pay any attention to until he leaves her. A career ending injury follows, and life-as-Emma-knows-it is over. She returns "home" to Australia where her mother somewhat reluctantly informs her of a bequest in her beloved grandmother’s will. She has been left an old farmhouse in a remote part of Australia. Wildflower Hill.

We then shift to Beattie’s story which is really the driving force of the novel. Beattie came of age in pre-WWII Scotland. Her parents were poor. Beattie worked two jobs to help out. And Beattie made some bad choices. Like having an affair with a married man who was quite a bit older. Inevitably, she finds she is going to have a baby. Being an unwed mother at that point in time is bad enough. Considering the father of the baby is already married – well, that doesn’t bode well for Beattie. She loses her jobs. Her parents kick her out. For awhile it seems even the father, Henry, has abandoned her.

This is when her last friend, Cora, offers this advice: "There are two types of women in this world, those who do things and those who have things done to them." Beattie decides to be a woman who does things.

Not to give away the whole plot, but Beattie does things. Major things. (Like run away to Australia for starters.) She’s a wonderful strong character and a very passionate one. She’s a good person (getting past that adultery thing), fair to others, and determined to succeed on her own. Her rags-to-riches tale is triumphant and yet, shot through with despair. Because whoo-boy! For all Beattie called upon Cora’s words of wisdom, I couldn’t wholly buy it. Beattie was the embodiment of both types of women. Things were done to her over and over again. She rises above it all impressively, but, realistically, this is not a happily-ever-after story for Beattie.

Emma, as modern day woman, has a different set of problems, all of which are self-imposed. If Beattie was "shunned" by the community, Emma shuts people out because she is too busy and too self-important. Where Beattie lived life to the fullest and loved almost sacrificially, Emma has had a very narrow life, devoted entirely to her ballerina career. Her injury forces her to reevaluate her priorities. Her exploration of her grandmother’s old farmhouse lead her to question what she really knew about Beattie. And while she is in the small community encompassing Wildflower Hill, she meets new people and discovers what is truly important.

There isn’t much that is surprising in Emma’s part of the narrative, but it’s a pleasant enough read. The real reward in this book is Beattie’s complex story. (But maybe that’s just my bias for historical fiction.) Beattie is not a perfect character. She makes mistakes. But she learns from them. She’s a fighter. She has a will of steel and a heart that won’t die no matter how many times it’s broken.

I’d read a few reviews of this book when it first came out and thought it sounded like something I’d enjoy. I requested it from the library, but it was one of those bad timing things – a few books all came in at once. I was in the middle of something else. At any rate, I had to return it before I could read it. To be sure that I wouldn’t forget about it, I bought it on my Nook. And there it sat for many months. It’s even easier to ignore Nook books than books on a physical shelf.

But this Mount TBR challenge (hosted by My Reader’s Block) is a wonderful thing. It inspired me to fire up my Nook and read this wonderful book!