I read and enjoyed Fiona Lowe’s previous book Daughter of Mine. When I received her latest, Birthright, I thought they sounded similar. They are both set in country towns and centred around families with secrets, who are failing to connect. But on reading I found the issues were quite different, and that Lowe had taken the writing and the plot to another level.
Siblings Sarah, Cameron and Ellie are all very different. Sarah is the dutiful first born, the ‘problem solver’, who has stayed in the town she was born in and takes care of matriarch Margaret. Cameron moved to Melbourne, but has returned as the prodigal son, the ‘golden child’, and takes advantage of his position as only the only male heir. Ellie never returned after going to boarding school as a teenager, has chosen a different lifestyle, seen as a ‘politically correct killjoy’, and only returned to the region for her son Noah, who she is raising on her own.
We get the perspective of each family member, and see how they, their partners and their children all fit in, and the way that they cope with their difference in a very relatable way. Seeing the various viewpoints also allows us to see how they each picture themselves, but also how they see each other, based on their own experiences, opportunities and memories, and what they actually know, and how this can change when they learn more.
Issues of gender, class and wealth are raised generally, but also in relation to inheritance. The roles and expectations of women in the family and at work are addressed, and those born into wealth and those who have had to struggle to obtain it are contrasted.
I enjoyed use Lowe’s use of simile – ‘Vindication grew like ivy, sucking and clinging to the disappointment she experienced when she thought about her daughters’; ‘Margaret startled and the past scuttled away like a cockroach slipping under a skirting board’ and ‘betrayal was a vulture that feasted luxuriously and long’.
The story reflects back and slowly reveals the secrets, deceit, denial, demons and guilt. The sibling rivalry, competition and parental favouritism are all portrayed through the family history and the questions of inheritance, where it should be ‘more than just the money. It’s love’, but that is not always the case. Ultimately it shows it is ‘too easy to make assumptions about people, especially family. We’re invariably wrong’.