Beyond the Orchard by Anna Romer is set around Bitterwood, a property on the coast of Victoria which was a guesthouse in its day. It was owned by patriarch Edwin Briar, who has just died, having sent his granddaughter Lucy a letter telling her to come home from London and that he will explain everything.
Told from his perspective in 1931, that of his daughter-in-law Karen in 1977, that of a young girl, Orah, shipwrecked off the coast in 1929, and in the first person from Lucy’s perspective in 1993, together with her father Ron’s take on various fairy stories.
Lucy has left her fiancée in London and catches up with old boyfriend Cody, who has since married her best friend Nina, but it is Cody’s father, Morgan, that she remembers most. Cody was fostered by Morgan and Gwen, and this, and the parent’s relationship add dimensions to the book. The theme that ‘family equals security’ runs through the novel.
Orah was saved by an Aboriginal boy Warra and his sister Nala who work for the Briars. The attitudes towards Aboriginal people at the time are revealed by the way that the Briars treat them in contrast to that of the neighbouring Burkes, giving the book another layer.
The losses, secrets, betrayals and lies affected all of the players, cumulatively, as Lucy suffered from nightmares, and seemed closed to committing then ran away when things got tough. So she tries to uncover what is behind them all, for her on benefit, and that of her father. Morgan, the history professor is a great assistant, and distraction.
The characters are all deeply flawed and reflect the trauma they have suffered, hiding their pain and guilt in different ways, showing what you see is not always the full story, or that sometimes you ‘see what you want to see’ and that ‘the past was never completely gone’ – we’re all ‘products of our past’.
Edwin and his brother Ronald served in the second world war where the horror of it was described but some of the questions left unanswered.
This is another book about complicated families over generations, how strong the bonds can be and what they were prepared to do to protect them – ultimately they do the best with what they have.