I bought this book, firstly because of the gorgeous cover and then because I loved the sound of the story. After I bought it a friend gave it a bad review and I so hoped that we just had a differing of opinions on this book. I’m happy to say we did!
This is a beautifully written book, the writing is almost poetic and I found myself reading slower than normal to absorb it. It took a while to get used to the writing and the way the author has decided to forgo using speech marks around the dialogue. By the end of the book though, I barely noticed.
This story consists of three timelines, three very different times, all connected through generations. I knew nothing of Kangaroo Island before reading this book, and certainly nothing of the sealers and the way they stole aboriginal women from their families. Interestingly one of the next books to read on my pile is also about the sealers.
It’s not a book in which a great deal of action happens, but a book about feeling, belonging and emotions, about loss and life and death, about family. Its a beautiful but sad story, leaving us with hope and greater understanding at the end.
I had so much empathy for Nell, my heart broke as I read her story, the secrets she’s held close all her life, finally being freed through her writing. Through Nell we learn of the people generations before who have formed the foundation of the island and are part of the land and Nell’s past. Decisions made outside of Nell’s control many years before have had a waterfall effect on her daughter and her granddaughters.
Pearl, one of her granddaughters, I also felt a connection to, she was the closest person to to Nell and when we meet her she is struggling to deal with Nell’s passing as well as inner struggles of her own. So much inner turmoil is conveyed I could physically feel her heart breaking.
Such descriptive language is used throughout this story, that I could see myself there on Kangaroo Island through the ages, I could smell the air and feel the wind and see the plants. I was the women, all the women of the different times.
I am glad I took a chance on this unknown book and debut author and will be looking for Molly Murn’s next book.
About the book: Pearl remembers Nell’s feet stretched towards the campfires on the beach, her fourth toe curled in and nestled against the middle toe like a small prawn. They all have a curled fourth toe – Diana, Lucy, Pearl.
When Pearl’s grandmother Nell dies unexpectedly, Pearl and her family – mother Diana, sister Lucy – return to Kangaroo Island to mourn and farewell her. Each of them knew Nell intimately but differently, and each woman must reckon with Nell’s passing in her own way. But Nell had secrets, too, and as Pearl, Diana and Lucy interrogate their feelings about the island, Pearl starts to pull together the scraps Nell left behind – her stories, poems, paintings – and unearths a connection to the island’s early history, of the early European sealers and their first contact with the Ngarrindjeri people.
As the three women are in grief pulled apart from each other, Pearl’s deepening connection to their history, the island’s history, grounds her, and will ultimately bring the women back to each other.
Heart of the Grass Tree is an exquisite, searing and hope-filled debut about mothers and daughters and family stories, about country and its living history.