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Book DetailsISBN: 9781742377896
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Book Review: Memory Tree by Tess Evans - Reviewed by CloggieA (06 Jan 2015)
The Memory Tree is the second novel by Australian author, Tess Evans. It is the late 1950s in the rural Victorian town of Yarra Falls. When ballerina Paulina Rodriguez suddenly dies, mid-dance, her family are devastated. Seven-year-old Sealie (Selina) and twelve-year-old Zav (Xavier) are lovingly cared for by the family’s housekeeper, Mrs Mac (Eileen McLennon). But, suddenly a widower, Hal (Heraldo) is finding it hard to cope without the love of his life.
Although they plant a magnolia tree together in her memory, Hal’s moods swing wildly, and it is often only Sealie who can bring him some measure of calm. Then he meets Godown Moses (former US Sergeant Moses B. Washbourne), Pastor of the Church of the Divine Conflagration. Convinced that this larger-than-life black man can help him find the answers he needs in the scriptures, Hal brings him home to join the family.
Evans chooses Hal’s granddaughter, Grace to narrate the events that bring joy, sorrow and tragedy to this family. As these are gradually revealed, Evans paints a vivid picture of various mental illnesses: Depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Paranoid Delusions and Bipolar Disorder are very well described. The Vietnam War, psychiatric hospitals, deinstitutionalisation of patients and dreams unrealised also feature.
This novel has a plot that is not predictable from the cover blurb; the characters are easy to love and care about; the prose is often beautiful and evocative: “He held back on the power of his voice when he sang to me and it had a sweetness then, that fell softly on my ears” and “…she learned to cope. She did this by packing her feelings out of sight, the way she did the objects in the boxes that crowded the room at the top of the stairs. In the attic of her mind lay a box into which she folded and lay the terrible, wrenching loss of her dream of the ballet” are just two examples.
While there is much sadness in this novel (readers will need plenty of tissues for the last chapters), there are also laugh out loud moments, and Hal’s limericks for his family are a true delight. This is a novel about love and loyalty, about regret (“’If’ is such a little word, but it punches way above its weight”), about sorrow and compassion. Readers who enjoyed “Book of Lost Threads” will not be disappointed in this second offering from Tess Evans. This moving story will stay with the reader long after the last page is turned.
The Memory Tree is Tess Evans' second novel. Her first, the bestselling Book of Lost Threads, was published in 2010 and was shortlisted for the Indie Awards 2011 and longlisted for the 2012 International IMPAC DUBLIN Literary Award. Previous to her writing debut, Tess taught and counselled a wide range of people: youth at risk, migrants, Indigenous trainees, apprentices, sole parents and unemployed workers of all ages and professions. Her experience with people is clearly visible in her humane, compassionate writing.
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