Book Review: Absolution Creek by Nicole Alexander
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I wish to thank both the Publisher, Random House Australia and The Reading Room for providing me with a hard copy of this novel.
One man lost her. One man died for her. One man would kill for her …
“In 1923 nineteen-year-old Jack Manning watches the construction of the mighty Harbour Bridge and dreams of being more than just a grocer’s son. So when he’s offered the chance to manage Absolution Creek, a sheep property 800 miles from Sydney, he seizes the opportunity.
But outback life is tough, particularly if you’re young, inexperienced and have only a few textbooks to guide you. Then a thirteen-year-old girl, Squib Hamilton, quite literally washes up on his doorstep – setting in motion a devastating chain of events.
Forty years later and Cora Hamilton is waging a constant battle to keep Absolution Creek in business. She’s ostracised by the local community and hindred by her inability to move on from the terrible events of her past, which haunt her both physically and emotionally.
Only one man knows what really happened in 1923. A dying man who is riding towards Absolution Creek, seeking his own salvation …”
Jack Manning wishes there was more to his life than being just the son of a grocer and dreams of a life better than the inherent prospect of one day owning the business his father will leave behind. An accident sees the early passing of his father, and the intervention of their elderly next door neighbour – to whom Jack has always shown kindness – sees Jack being given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity - to run Absolution Creek, 700 miles from Sydney.
With the forced acquisition of a large amount of Sydney homes and businesses taking place to make way for the building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the resultant displacement of many residents, Jack grasps this opportunity with great excitement and heads out, promising to send for the love of his life, Olive who comes from a wealthier family than him – this is his one hope of making a better life for himself, thereby allowing him to rid himself of his lower-class status.
Then the waif, Squib, quite literally washes up on his doorstep, setting in motion life-changing events and we see that life doesn't always go according to our plan!
With the book shifting between Jack in 1923 and Cora in 1965, we see Jack constantly battling to tame a brutal land with only a handful of books as his teachers and Cora awaiting the arrival of her niece – a final chance at revenge on her step-sister. The lone rider too, begins his journey.
Definition of absolution (take from oxforddictionaries.com)
• formal release from guilt, obligation, or punishment”
• formal release from guilt, obligation, or punishment”
I found Cora’s character to be well-developed and extremely strong, quite capably managing to raise my hackles! I really did not like her, but as the story progressed, Nicole Alexander managed to draw on my sympathy towards the young girl that Cora once was and the heartbreaking events which took place at the hands of her step-sister, leading her to Jack and Absolution Creek and ultimately the life she was meant to live. And, although I like to think of myself as quite a forgiving person, believing that “hate” is a strong word, I did feel that Cora’s bitterness and caustic treatment of her step-sister was rather well-deserved, due to the heartbreak she experienced and the life and family she could never regain.
I enjoyed Jack’s character and whilst I felt he was a bit shallow at times in his treatment of Olive, a girl he was supposedly in love with, he was rather focused on the job he had been employed to do, and totally redeemed himself in my eyes with his treatment of and loyalty to Squib.
Olive’s character, of course, appears to be typical of that time period with her coming across as particularly needy and weak – but maybe that too has something to do with the cards that life dealt her!
The culmination of events which unfold in the last quarter of the book including the revelations made by “Scrubber” all add to the mystery surrounding Cora’s “inheritance” of Absolution Creek. Of course, the revelation of “Scrubber’s” true identity came as a shock to me as, throughout most of the book, I had difficulty keeping up with his character and trying to tie him in to the story. His final revelation to the reader will astound you and make you wonder if he truly realised the consequences his initial action would have on so many people’s lives.
Whilst Cora doesn’t get to hear the “whole” truth, thankfully with the third person narrative, we as reader get to learn the full story!
All in all, I found this to be a well-structured story with a very satisfying climax resulting in a plot where all the elements of love, betrayal, hatred, deception, jealousy and redemption are strongly entwined.
This is a fairly lengthy book and the first that I have read by Nicole Alexander. Although I really struggled with it due to the number of characters the author introduces, the alternating time periods of 1923 and 1965 and trying to tie all the characters together, I will most definitely read more from her.
The historical facts are fascinating – perhaps because I have only lived here for 4 years and am still learning a lot about my adopted country – but perhaps too because my former homeland (South Africa) and Australia share a history rich in colonialism and a landscape equally diverse. Being a fourth generation grazier, Nicole Alexander knows the land, and her vivid representations of the outback have me wanting to carry out one of my dreams – to visit Outback Australia and be present on a stock muster! Needless to say, I can still smell the dust!
This was also the first of my long list of books to read for the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge 2013 as well as the 2013 Aussie Author Challenge.