Aussie Book Review: House for all Seasons by Jenn J McLeod
My rating: 4 / 5
Format: Paperback courtesy of Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 1 March 2013
Format: Paperback courtesy of Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 1 March 2013
"House for all Seasons is about coming home and discovering country roots can run deep.
Bequeathed a century-old house, four estranged friends return to Calingarry Crossing where each must stay for a season at the Dandelion House to fulfil the wishes of their benefactor, Gypsy:
Sara, a breast cancer survivor afraid to fall in love;
Poppy, a tough, ambitious journo still craving her father's approval;
Amber, a spoilt socialite addicted to painkillers and cosmetic procedures;
Caitlin, a doctor frustrated by a controlling family and her flat-lining life.
But coming home to the country stirs shameful memories of the past, including the tragic end-of-school muck up day accident twenty years earlier. And at the Dandelion House, the women will discover something about themselves and a secret that ties all four to each other and to the house - forever."
Summary and Thoughts
Four women! And a tale that lays bare the dark secret of a NSW country town!!
Former friends Sara, Amber, Poppy and Caitlin, are introduced to us as they sit in a solicitor’s office, having just received news of an unexpected inheritance. Gypsy, an old friend, has bequeathed The Dandelion House to them in four equal shares, her terms – to each spend one season at the house! After the tragic events which took place twenty years before, they find it curious that they have inherited the house and don’t appear over-eager to return to a place which holds so many haunting memories.
Broken up into four parts, each character is seemingly at a crossroads and has her own story to tell. With the narrative flitting between past and present, we are given insight into how each of them must come to terms with the circumstances and events surrounding both that fateful day twenty years before and the dark secret which needs to be uncovered.
Although Caitlin describes Sara as “whiny”, she is a woman who has faced many challenges in her life, her breast cancer and broken marriage only two contributions to her character as a whole. Childless for most of their marriage, she was born to her parents late in their lives with her mother having been placed in a home before her sixteenth birthday and her father suffering from dementia. Afraid to fall in love thanks to the mental scars inflicted by the pain of her marriage breakup and the physical scars left by her breast cancer, Sara is in need of more than just physical healing. It comes as no surprise then (or does it) that Summer is the season chosen to fulfil Gypsy’s wishes – after all, Summer is a time of growth, a time to take inventory and learn how to heal. Will Sara finally be able to add love to the never-ending items on her list, thereby learning to accept the fact that life is to be lived?
Poppy feels she has a lot to prove. Having always felt responsible for the deaths of her grandmother, mother and brother, she believes that this is the reason why her father has never been able to accept and love her. Constantly striving to prove herself to him, she is a tough and ambitious journo who has been out on the frontline and is currently up for a journalism award. Used to retreating and, after attending the awards ceremony where, all too painfully, her father’s absence has been noted, she decides to take some time off work and spend her season at The Dandelion House. With thoughts of her father’s ultimate rejection battering her mind, uppers and downers lying on the dining-room table, and her journalistic instinct sniffing out a story, she befriends Elias who, through his own experiences in Vietnam, forces her to realise that her father came home mentally damaged after which she concludes that not all stories need to contain the guts and glory of war. Left holding a Dandelion puffball after a mysterious visit from her father, will she finally be able to forgive him and allow herself to be open to a power greater than ourselves?
Amber is a character who raised my hackles with her supercilious and conciliatory attitude from the beginning, when Sara likened her to “a cat in looks and temperament” but as I got to know her, I realised that there were a lot of issues which ran much deeper and shaped her into what she had become and felt that she was the character who had the most to learn in her season at Calingarry Crossing. Having been brought up with an alcoholic mother and a controlling father who were always feuding, she was rather rebellious and impetuous with the result that she fell pregnant at the age of seventeen and was whisked away by her father, thereby deserting her mother. Now, a spoilt socialite addicted to painkillers and cosmetic procedures, Amber arrives at a deserted Dandelion House during Autumn, discovering that her bedroom, like the late autumn trees, are bereft of all decoration and colour, and some disturbing revelations are about to be uncovered! Is Amber’s season a reflection of the place she has arrived in her life and will she be able to revisit her past, re-connect with someone she has always spoken of as “dead” thus becoming the woman she was meant to be?
Caitlyn is described as the clever one. A doctor frustrated by her controlling family and drawing the line at their expectations of babies and marriage for her, she arrives at the house after suffering hurt at the hands of her ex-husband and his philandering ways. The bedroom that greets her is filled with all sorts of animals, a reflection of what she once longed to be … and then there’s Alex, and the decisions she needs to make when she discovers a secret that will either destroy all four women as they attempt to repair their broken lives, or forever bind them together. Does meeting Alex represent a second chance for Caitlin to finally follow her own dreams?
With mystical insight and deep love, Gypsy is both the axis around which each of the four narratives spin themselves with her back-story shining through, as well as the vessel through which each woman will experience great emotional and spiritual development on their personal journeys, ultimately changing their perceptions of themselves. Just like the liquidambar trees are a steadfast presence throughout this novel, so, too, is Gypsy who constantly makes her presence known through the letters she has written to the four women, the truths locked away behind each door and the memories they hold of her.
Debut author, Jenn J McLeod, has produced a well-written novel with strong characterisation in both her main and supporting characters, giving us a remarkable insight into the human psyche. A novel which contains deeper themes of alcoholism, domestic violence and terminal illness interspersed with the more intricate themes of family ties and friendship which all lend themselves to sub-plots that cascade perfectly into the final crescendo of a long-kept secret which this reader never even saw coming, it will appeal to a wide range of readers.
So, if you’re looking for a whimsical read steeped in atmosphere, laced with spiritual resonance and interspersed with idyllic descriptions of the beautiful countryside of New South Wales whilst all being perfectly wrapped up in wisps of gypsy magick, then I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this great book while we await the release of The Simmering Season.
I wish to thank both Simon and Schuster and The Reading Room for providing me with a copy of this engaging novel.
A Little About the Author (taken from her website)
No stranger to embracing a second chance or trying something different, Jenn took the first tentative steps towards her tree change in 2004, escaping
Sydney’s corporate chaos to buy a small café in the seaside town of . Sawtell
Moving to the country was like coming home and she now spends her days maintaining her NSW property and writing contemporary Australian fiction – life-affirming novels of small town life and the country roots that run deep.
Securing a two-book deal with Simon and Schuster, House for all Seasons is her debut novel with Book 2 in the Seasons Collection, The Simmering Season, due to follow in 2014.
And another one bites the dust for the 2013 Australian Women Writers Challenge.