Aussie Book Review: Lyrebird Hill by Anna Romer
“When all that you know comes crashing down, do you run? Or face the truth?
Ruby Cardel has the semblance of a normal life – a loving boyfriend, a fulfilling career – but in one terrible moment, her life unravels. The discovery that the death of her sister, Jamie, was not an accident makes her question all she’s known about herself and her past.
Travelling back home to Lyrebird Hill, Ruby begins to remember the year that has been forever blocked in her memory . . . Snatches of her childhood with beautiful Jamie, and Ruby’s only friendship with the boy from the next property, a troubled foster kid.
Then Ruby uncovers a cache of ancient letters from a long-lost relative, Brenna Magavin, written from her cell in a Tasmanian gaol where she is imprisoned for murder. As she reads, Ruby discovers that her family line is littered with tragedy and violence.
Slowly, the gaps in Ruby’s memory come to her. And as she pieces together the shards of truth, what she finally discovers will shock her to the core – about what happened to Jamie that fateful day, and how she died.
A thrilling tale about family secrets and trusting yourself...”
In this dual timeline novel, the remembrances of an amnesia-stricken woman have dangerous consequences for her. Combined with the unravelling of a century old mystery, it will have the reader sitting on the edge of their seat.
In the present day we meet Ruby Cardel, the owner of a successful bookshop and girlfriend of writer Rob as they are getting ready to go to her mother’s art exhibition opening. Ruby has spent most of her life living in the shadows cast by her sister’s death eighteen years before and hasn’t seen Margaret in three years due to the troubled relationship that they share. But somehow, she has managed to cope through it all – if only just!
Still suffering from the amnesia that blotted out that fateful day as well as the events that took place in the previous year, past ghosts and self-doubt have continued to haunt her but it is the sight of Margaret’s artwork and her face-to-face encounter with Esther, the owner of her childhood home, Lyrebird Hill, that suddenly threaten to dislodge the veil and bring the past tumbling back into the present.
After an argument with Rob about his infidelity, Ruby flees to Lyrebird Hill in the hopes that Esther will be able to answer the questions that plague her. In her dogged determination to search for the truth, latent memories come to the fore and Ruby will finally confront all the lies and deceit that have been festering for more than two decades. As well as re-discovering a childhood friend, she digs up an old tin with a bundle of letters that take us on a journey back to 1898, introducing us to Brenna Magavin.
Having recently uncovered the truth about her parentage and out of absolute love for her brother, Owen, and Fa Fa (her father), Brenna does a selfless thing by entering into a loveless marriage in order to save Fa Fa from paying back a rather large debt.
Sacrificing everyone at Lyrebird Hill (including the Indigenous people who live on the property and with whom she has developed a close relationship) for her husband’s family home in Tasmania, Brenna soon finds herself leading an almost isolated and fearful existence with only Carsten’s sister, her love of drawing the indigenous flora and Carsten’s enigmatic and physically scarred man-servant to keep her company.
For the reader, the pieces of the ambiguous puzzle begin to fall into place as we see a family shadowed by fear, tragedy and death, with concerns that a familial trait has been passed down through the generations showing how the mistakes of our ancestors can have a hold over our present. The story reaches a dramatic climax when the final threads of Ruby’s memory are stitched together and Anna reveals the events leading up to the Prologue, all of which make for some bone-chilling as well as heart-rending reading.
I’ve read a number of rave reviews about Anna Romer’s debut novel, Thornwood House, so when Lyrebird Hill came up for review, I was all too eager to request it - and I’m so glad that I did because from the moment I read the Prologue, I was hooked as she garnered a true sense of mystery right from the get-go which left me continually questioning its placement within her rich, colourful and complex narrative.
Unlike some dual timelines I have come across, Anna’s are equally strong as they support and reinforce each other, and I would be hard-pressed to choose a favourite as both have different elements to offer. This strength does not diminish as the novel progresses and Anna’s storytelling abilities, rendered with a confident voice, give us a fine, atmospheric tale about family secrets and fragile relationships in which the characters seem to be balancing on a violin string - one pluck from the violinist, will have them toppling into a dark abyss.
Whilst on the subject of characters, both Ruby and Brenna are majorly flawed, suffering all manner of human imperfections such as insecurity, jealousy, fear and anxiety (amongst others) but this merely adds to their depth and humanity, enhancing them and allowing the reader to identify and engage their sympathy. But the real star of this book is the old family property of Lyrebird Hill in Northern NSW which becomes a character in its own right with the secrets that it has harboured since 1898 as well as those it keeps from Ruby’s childhood and it will only take the relinquishing of bits and pieces for the door to the past to be wrenched fully open.
Brooding and mesmerising, this is an absorbingly written and richly atmospheric novel combining suspense, intrigue and mystery with a fairytale element that will forever linger in my thoughts and I cannot wait for Anna's next contribution to the literary world.
I wish to thank Simon and Schuster for providing me with an eARC of this brilliant novel.
A Little About the Author
Anna Romer spent her wayward youth travelling the globe, working as a graphic artist while she soaked up local histories and folklore from the Australian outback, then Asia, Europe, and America.
A visit to her sister in north Queensland inspired her first novel, Thornwood House, a story that reflects her fascination with old diaries and letters, dark family secrets, rambling old houses, the persistence of the past, and our unique Australian landscape.