Fran hates Ash Mountain, and she thought she’d escaped. But her father is ill, and needs care. Her relationship is over, and she hates her dead-end job in the city, anyway.
She returns to her hometown to nurse her dying father, her distant teenage daughter in tow for the weekends. There, in the sleepy town of Ash Mountain, childhood memories prick at her fragile self-esteem, she falls in love for the first time, and her demanding dad tests her patience, all in the unbearable heat of an Australian summer.
As old friendships and rivalries are renewed, and new ones forged, Fran’s tumultuous home life is the least of her worries, when old crimes rear their heads and a devastating bushfire ravages the town and all of its inhabitants…
Simultaneously a warm, darkly funny portrait of small-town life – and a woman and a land in crisis – and a shocking and truly distressing account of a catastrophic event that changes things forever, Ash Mountain is a heart-breaking slice of domestic noir, and a disturbing disaster thriller that you will never forget…
Hi and welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Ash Mountain! Huge thanks to Anne Cater for the invite and to Orenda Books for the gorgeous review copy!
Speaking of, please take a minute to really take in this beautiful book cover. This photo was taken during the devastating bushfires in Australia last year by a father who spotted his little girl in the doorway, looking out at the fire. He recognised that it was the most powerful image and managed to capture it on his phone. When Helen FitzGerald saw the photo she knew it would make the perfect cover for the book she had just finished writing. She and Orenda Books managed to track down the photographer, who kindly gave his permission to use it for the jacket. Thanks to Robert Dixon and his daughter Arla for this absolutely stunning image!
Speaking of stunning, I had high expectations but I didn’t think it was possible for the content to be as stunning as the cover. I was wrong. Helen FitzGerald’s writing is exquisite and her story is every bit as eerie and terrifying and evocative and shockingly beautiful as Rob Dixon’s photo. I laughed, I almost cried, I could practically feel the lick of the flames on my skin, touch the ashes, smell the smoke, and best of all: it took my mind off things in real life, made me forget all about my worries and anxiety for 216 glorious pages, thank you Helen!
Ash Mountain is a sleepy little town in the Australian bush, a backwater where Fran grew up and one she was happy to escape. But now she’s back, and her memories come flooding back as well. Pregnant at fifteen, Fran has been a mother for thirty years now. Her baby boy is an adult man, her daughter is a teenager herself, but now that her years of nursing children are over, she’s entering a new stage in her life: nursing her father. That is obviously tough but Fran manages it with a ton of humour.
Ash Mountain starts on the day of the fire, and then goes back and forth between that day and the days before, and Fran’s childhood memories, a kind of coming-of-age storyline that is entertaining all on its own but also helps the reader to understand Fran as a person. Interlacing the story with chapters set on the day of the fire gives the whole story a sense of urgency, of impending doom. About halfway through the novel it becomes abundantly clear that there will be casualties and that beloved characters may not be spared, but Helen FitzGerald makes the reader wait and wait and wait for any kind of reprieve (So. Incredibly. Mean.) but it did keep me turning the pages as fast as I could, I had to know what happened the day of the fire, even though I knew full well that I probably wouldn’t like it.
Ash Mountain is a truly brilliant book, I loved everything about it. I adored the characters, Fran obviously, with her pitch-black sense of humour (that “refund” scene had me howling with laughter), but also her father, travelling the town on a stick and asking everyone how their rash is (don’t ask, just read the book), and her kids, mellow Dante and sarcastic Vonny, even the ostriches. I loved the small town vibe, the vivid writing transporting me there. I loved the claustrophobic vibe of the town and the fire and although I watched the bushfire footage on the news, it’s reading Ash Mountain that’s really given me a feel of what it’s like to hear the alarms sound, to have to water your roof, to have to run for cover, and to face the aftermath. Fire has a terrible beauty, I’m draw to it but I’m even more terrified of it (if I were one to believe in past lives, I’d be convinced I was burned at the stake as a witch in a past life 😄) and Ash Mountain portrays the fire in such a way that it becomes a character in its own right. Highly recommended.