Aussie Book Review: Burned by Persephone Nicholas

BurnedMy Rating:              4 / 5
Format:                   Uncorrected eBook Proof courtesy of
                               Random House Australia via NetGalley
Publication Date:    3 June 2013
Category:               Contemporary Fiction
ISBN:                      9780857981240
Publisher:               Random House Australia
Imprint:                   RHA eBooks Adult
Extent:                    256 pages

The Blurb

“One tragic event connects four lives in this haunting story of loss, love and renewal.

Noah Daniels is an innocent young boy who treasures the telescope his father bought him and who daydreams of one day travelling through space.

His mother, Kate, nurses bittersweet memories of her marriage to Richard and deeply regrets moving the family from Sydney to England.

Malcolm Martin is still paralysed with grief twenty years after the death of his son.  Home for him now is a park bench by the canal.

And then there’s Matthew Hooper – a classmate of Noah’s – who has come to suspect that his older brother, Tom, has a dangerous obsession with fire …

Four people from opposite sides of the world are about to be brought together by one horrifying event that will burn them forever.”

Summary and Thoughts

*Please note that this review is based on the uncorrected proof provided to me by the Publisher and that it may differ slightly to the final published version*

Switching between past and present as well as Sydney and Salisbury in the UK, our main characters are Kate Daniels and her son, Noah, Malcolm Martin and Tom Hooper along with David, Lydia and Frankie Trafford and Persephone Nicholas takes us on their journeys dissecting and capturing their emotions with life-like clarity in a novel that explores love, letting go and our sense of belonging.

Noah is a model child who does his best at school, knowing that if he doesn’t, there’s no way he’ll ever be able to reach his dream but, he still grieves the loss of his father and can’t help but blame his mother.  After all, they moved from Australia to the UK and lived together for a while until the day his father moved out into his own home and two years later, was dead in an accident.  Will Noah get to live his dream?

Kate loves Noah, but has always felt somewhat emotionally disconnected from him seeing him as more Richard’s child than hers.  As she reflects back on her life with Richard, and goes through her daily life with Noah, we begin to get a clearer picture regarding the disintegration of her marriage – something that no child of Noah’s age would be able to comprehend when the seriousness of what occurred was always kept behind closed doors.  Can she finally let go of her past and realise that the past has no hold over her?

Tom and Matthew Hooper are brothers.  As the story progresses, the Hooper’s seem to be just like any other normal family, but Matthew, the younger of the two is afraid of his brother’s disturbing  obsession and tries to have as little to do with him as possible.  When he begins to suspect that Tom is involved in something more sinister, he doesn’t realise that trying to keep his knowledge of what his brother has done is going to have dire consequences for both of them.

Malcolm Martin paints a lonely, dejected picture.  Having lost his son, twenty years previously, he has never been able to overcome his grief, plunging him deeper into depression which in turn caused the collapse of his marriage.   Content with now staring down the neck of a bottle, drowning his sorrows with its contents and sleeping on a park bench, he has become a shell of his former self.  Surely no-one will miss him!

David Trafford is a police officer.  His wife, Lydia and his daughter Frankie (Noah’s best friend), play an important part in his life, but while David loves his job, Lydia still longs for something more.  And Frankie?  When she becomes enamoured of Matthew, what will it mean for her friendship with Noah?  Will David and Lydia realise that this is not the life they wish to live?

When Noah finds himself walking home from Scouts late one night, he comes across a burning bundle and attempts, in the only way he knows how, to help.  Unknowingly his kindness and this painful event with its reverberating consequences will have a profound impact on the lives of everyone close to Noah and we are left hoping that they will all stop and reflect on the true importance of life.

It took me a while to get into this novel due to the fact that there is a lot going on in these characters’ lives and memories.  The frequent skipping between past and present was a bit confusing at first although I soon realised that this was important in order to get to know the characters’ backstories and connect emotionally with them.

On the topic of emotional connection, while I thoroughly enjoyed what I shared with Kate and Noah, I found myself floundering when it came to the sixteen year old Tom, as the vivid picture that Persephone Nicholas paints of this psychologically challenged character had me fearing for the safety of all concerned.  He is almost psychopathic in nature and, being a gentler person myself who abhors any act of unkindness, I struggled with his sinister personality wanting in no way to connect with him.

All things considered and, inspired by changes in her own life, Ms Nicholas has written a cleverly constructed human account of our search for belonging which I could totally relate to, as we, too, longed for something more which resulted in us making the decision to create a new life for ourselves in Australia. 

While there are emotional charges of delinquency and bullying threading their way through the narrative along with the renewing effect of letting go of the past and accepting the future, this is a novel about the strength of a mother’s unconditional love for her children and a testament to new beginnings.

I wish to thank Random House Australia for inviting me to read this debut by a talented new author on the Australian scene.

A Little About the Author (Adapted from her website)

Persephone Nicholas is a Sydney-based author and freelance writer.  In February 2013, she was awarded the National Seniors Literary Prize for Burned, her debut novel, published by Random House in June 2013.

Ms Nicholas is a freelance writer with more than 15 years' commercial copywriting experience gained during her career in public relations and marketing in London, working for two of teh UK's leading agencies, J Walter Thompson and The Rowland Company.

Ms Nicholas has a particular interest in management and workplace issues, travel and lifestyle and her work has been published in The Weekend Australian and Daily Telegraph newspapers.  Along with writing for Prevention, Rendezvous en France, Viva La France, Holidays with Kids, Health Smart, Reader's Digest, the Innovative Household and Renovate (NZ) magazines, and has her own blog about books and writing at The Book or Me.


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