Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Wildflower Hill by Kimberly Freeman — 544 pgs

Wildflower HillBeattie Blaxton is shaken and distraught when she finds herself with child in 1930’s Ireland, being neither married nor even engaged to the child’s father. After an unsuccessful attempt to part from her lover and give her unborn child up for adoption, her lover Henry comes to the rescue and spirits her away to Australia. But life for Beattie is still not easy, as Henry, having absconded from his legal wife, is quite a drinker and spendthrift who also has a problem with gambling. Soon Beattie decides to take her chances alone with her young daughter in a town where an unmarried mother is not looked upon kindly. When Beattie secures a job as a maid at a struggling sheep farm called Wildflower Hill, her future begins a slow revolution that will take her from the bottom rungs of society to the upper echelons of wealth and power. But along the way, there is much she will have to sacrifice. Two generations later, Beattie’s granddaughter Emma is having her own struggles. As a premiere ballerina who is just hitting the upper age range for a successful career, Emma has just had a career-ending injury. After weeks of wallowing following her accident and an untimely break-up, Emma is called into her grandmother’s lawyer’s office to take receipt of the last piece of her inheritance. But it’s not wealth that has been imparted to her, and when she discovers just what Beattie meant her to do, she embarks on a trip to Tasmania and Wildflower Hill, where she will discover the truth about herself and about her grandmother’s past that was kept hidden for many dark years. Blending the lingering past with the intoxicating present, Kimberly Freeman gives us the lives of two women cut from the same cloth, yet so very, very different.

Though Beattie and Emma were very similar characters, there were some substantial ways in which they differed. While I would have to say that Beattie was the more courageous and motivated, Emma sometimes appeared a little more cold and less emotionally evolved than her grandmother. Part of this may have been that Beattie got a lot more page space and her conundrums were a lot more interesting and heartrending than Emma’s refusal to let her dancing career go. While I did like both women, I think I felt more at home in the historical sections, because for some reason that story had a little more gravity and drama to it. Emma’s story was by far lighter and more redolent of romance than the hardship of Beattie’s story, though the narrative devices that tied these two stories together was strong and did have me very curious.

The historical parts of the story had a lot of different and pressing issues taking place within its structure. Not only was the difficulty of being a single mother explored, but also the dubious position that Beattie got herself in when she agreed to let Henry share custody of Lucy, her daughter. It was heartrending to read about the problems that faced a woman on her own in Australia, from the town’s prejudice and intolerance of Beattie and her hired hands, to the way that religion was used as a weapon to subdue and control those who were felt to be out of line. Beattie maintains a strength and fortitude throughout her trials, but even the most casual reader can see that all this wears on her and slowly breaks her spirit. By the end of her tale, Beattie is a shadow of her former self and her dreams and hopes have been subtly replaced by secrets and longing. It was interesting to see this morphing of such a strong character into a woman who was beset with regrets, and one can argue that although Beattie was wildly successful in some venues, she had to sacrifice so many things for that success that it must have been a bittersweet victory.

Emma too was discovering that some of her life was going to have to be sacrificed, and one of the problems that arose from this situation was that Emma had no idea of who she was outside of her dancing. From childhood, Emma was able to indulge this creative side of herself to the detriment of forming real relationships and attachments. Though she did have a relationship with a very successful man, it turns out that most of that relationship was a facade as well. As Emma begins to see that there is more to life than the pursuit of her dancing career, she discovers a side of herself that she didn’t know existed; and in her search for the clues to Beattie’s past, Emma comes to find that her new life is ripe with possibilities and opportunities. I liked that Emma was able to pull away from the character traits that were subsuming her real intellect and grace, and that she was eventually open to starting a new chapter in her life that was slated to go in a very different direction. Her romantic entanglements were refreshing as well, and I was very pleased at her final choice of paramour.

Throughout this story a lot of very sensitive issues were brought up. From the prejudices that the aboriginal peoples have faced, to the problems that arose during a mixed-race relationship during the 50’s, to the sticky issue of parental rights, there were a lot of thoughtful and emotional landmines in this tale. And while some of these issues were never fully resolved, there was a great striving for enlightenment and understanding from the principals in the story. At its heart, there were vast currents of prejudice and dishonor and hatred that had to be dealt with, and in dealing with these very uncomfortable topics, there was a lot of character growth. I admit that it wasn’t always empowering and comfortable growth, but I really admire Freeman for sticking to her guns and including so many serious topics in a book that really could have been just about the fluff. In the end so many questions are raised and explored that it was easy to categorize this book as a thoughtful and intelligent read.

Though I preferred the historical sections to the contemporary ones, both were done rather well, and each half of the story seemed to blend into a satisfying whole that I came to appreciate and enjoy. It’s not only a book about relationships, but about ideas that challenged the times they were captured in. Also, as the book ends in a bit of an ambiguous fashion, I’m wondering if there might ever be plans for a sequel. If so, I would definitely be in line to read it. A very thoughtful and entertaining read.


This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

16 comments:

Marg said...

I've seen quite a few really good reviews of this book and I am beginning to think that I am a bad Aussie because I haven't yet read it!

TheBookGirl said...

Wonderful review Heather. From what you wrote, I think that Beattie's story would be more appealing to me as well. I don't know much about the trials of the aboriginal peoples and would like to learn more; its one of the subjects for historical fiction that I've never read. I see that it was a rather long read, and I'm wondering if you felt that the two stories were well merged, or if this could have been two shorter, separate works?

rhapsodyinbooks said...

This sounds great - especially because I have read hardly any books taking place there. And I love the title and cover!

Audra said...

Oh, I hadn't realized this was a mix of historical and contemporary -- my GoodReads feed has been full of enthusiastic buzz for it -- I'm adding to my TBR.

nomadreader said...

I have not seen this book anywhere else yet. I typically enjoy stories that flip between two time periods. This one sounds intriguing. Thanks!

Zibilee said...

BookGirl,

It was a very long read, but I think that splitting the story in two would have lessened the impact a bit, so I would have to say that it probably is best the way it was written.

Pam (@iwriteinbooks) said...

I’ve found that I really do well with stories that mix history and contemporary. There’s something that often works very well about this mix of the two told in parallel.

Aths said...

This sounds like an impressive sage-like book! I haven't heard of it, but now I'm eager to check it out. The main character sounds like a very strong female character at a time when women probably didn't have much status.

Amy said...

Sounds like a really deep and interesting book, thanks for the great review. Seems it is often hard to mix current and contemporary so I'm not surprised one was done slightly better. Glad to see you enjoyed it so much though!

bermudaonion said...

This sounds like a powerful story. I love that it tackles so many issues.

Suko said...

Zibilee, your review of this book is thoughtful and well written, as usual. Wildflower Hill sounds like a book that belongs on my TBR pile, near the top.

Aarti said...

I really like the title of this book, and am also intrigued by its setting in Tasmania! I generally don't like stories that are cross-generational like this one seems to be, but maybe it's worth a shot, anyway.

PS - The first book I plan on reading when I return to Ann Arbor is The Lonely Polygamist!

Jenners said...

I always think that books like this won't interest me … and then I'm often wrong. Great review.

Geosi said...

This is deep, an intensely written book.

Amy said...

This book sounds wonderful. I love tht there's the historical aspect to it with Beattie, although it sounds rather sad, and then the more modern day part with Emma and eventually they're linked. The other aspect of this book that really intrigues me are the serious issues Kimberly Freeman addresses. I think it's great that these themes or topics arise in her characters lives and rather than just mention them and move on she tells about think such as how religion was used to subdue and put people in their place years ago and how difficult it was for single mothers to make a living.

Your review is fantastic, Heather. This is the first I've heard of this book and it captivates me.

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

Yet another book I have to pick up... :) It does sound like a thoughtful book with excellent issues discussed.

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