This is a novel written by talented debut author, Kali Napier. In her Notes, she explains that her inspiration was triggered by discoveries about her own family’s history of their attempts to find a new life in Bangarra.
In this absorbing story we share the struggles of her characters to leave behind a troubled past and to create a new future.
Set in 1932 in a remote Australian country town, we meet Lily, a harsh mother and a cold wife, disappointed and frustrated by husband Ernie’s financial failure and bitter about the frugal life this forces them to live.
Despite this, she agrees to share a new venture in Ernie’s home town of Bangarra, where he plans to restore an old building as a guesthouse for Summer visitors.
They settle in and Lily utilises her skill as a dressmaker to meet local women in an attempt to climb the ladder of what she sees as the ‘social strata’ of the town. Girlie, their 11-year old lonely and confused daughter, desperately seeks to find a companion to replace the best friend she left behind.
Their uneasy business pursuit and personal lives in this new country town are further disrupted by the unexpected arrival of Tommy, Lily’s WW1 shell-shocked and emotionally disturbed brother, who has recently been released after spending three years in jail. Tommy has his own demons and creates further dissension by accidentally revealing yet another family secret to Girlie.
This story paints a bleak picture of life in a small country town in that era. A rigid ‘social hierarchy’ exists around local women’s groups such as CWA and WI. and rivalry for Committee positions is rife, as Lily discovers.
Ernie, too, loses the regard of his fellow town businessmen when news of his bankruptcy is leaked.
Lily finds that a threat from her past has re-emerged and this adds even more pressure and difficulty to her life. Tommy, too, poses a problem and concern for both Lily and Ernie.
As we get to know the characters more intimately, we learn of many more secrets, of infidelities, and of their consequences. We understand that Lily’s poor relationship with her own mother has strongly influenced her attitude towards motherhood and explains the relentless ambition she has for Girlie’s musical success as a pianist.
This is indeed a story all about secrets and their far reaching consequences! I do feel that, as sometimes happens with first novels, the author has so much to share that we become slightly ‘over-loaded’ towards the end as one dramatic secret after another is revealed! (Perhaps it was just own reaction, but my head was spinning slightly towards the end of the
I found it difficult to really like any of the characters, except Girlie, but as we learn more of their background stories they do evoke some sympathy and understanding. I became quite angry and frustrated with some of them but the book did keep me absorbed until the very last page. I do suggest you share The Secrets of Ocean’s Edge for yourself!
I would really be interested to hear reactions from other readers.
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Publisher: HACHETTE AUSTRALIA