I have a real soft spot for author Margareta Osborn. Her debut novel Bella’s Run was amongst the first books I reviewed for This Charming Mum and remains my benchmark for the ubiquitous ‘rural romance’ genre that seems to be dominating Australian publishing at the moment. It was fast paced, racy, raunchy and addictive – nothing like what I expected. My (naïve) impression of ‘romance fiction’ was of sexist, dominating heroes and starry eyed, bosomy princesses plodding their way through predictable scenarios. This couldn’t be further removed from Osborn’s brand of empowered women and brooding blokes who journey together towards an understanding of love. That journey, though, is never smooth and Osborn’s work won’t disappoint fans of traditional romances: boy meets girl, boy and girl don’t get along, boy and girl realise they’re wildly attracted to each other, and so on. Osborn is skilled at breaking down stereotypes, though, and rounding out characters while still fulfilling the needs of a conventional romance narrative.
Hope’s Road is a more mature book, in some ways, than Bella’s Run. At the heart of this novel is a long running family feud, which subtly touches the lives of many residents in the farming community of Naree. Bella’s Run, with its young and adventurous protagonists was more like a frantic road movie, whereas Hope’s Road is a sweeping family epic. This new novel relies less on shock value and delves deeper into what makes the characters tick, providing plenty of sexual tension though far less actual sex! The two novels do share detailed and (I presume) realistic descriptions of the beauty and terror that rule rural life, from peaceful moments of watching the stars to the horrors of tempestuous weather, shielding livestock from predators and financial insecurity.
Tammy McCauley inherited the property of Montmorency Downs from the grandparents who raised her when her mother died young. It borders the properties of her great uncle – an embittered man who has not spoken to Tammy since she was a child – and Travis Hunter – a single dad with no real clue how to make life for him and his son anything greater than basic survival. In the mix is Tammy’s abusive husband, Shon, who leaves her early in the book but who wants to stake his claim on the family property. Tammy must find a way to put the ghosts of the past behind her in order to open a new chapter on life at Montmorency Downs.
Hope’s Road is packed with quirky locals from Tammy’s loud mouthed best mate Lucy, to the predatory women with their sights set on the enigmatic Travis. High on the hill, self-styled grumpy old man, Joe McCauley, watches the world through his rifle sight and ponders the mix of sadness and stubbornness that caused the deep rift between he and his brother Thomas (Tammy’s grandfather). Hope’s Road is not the rollicking ride Osborn delivered with Bella’s Run, but a story that unfolds gently, allowing each of the main characters an epiphany that will bring them to the inevitable happy ending. Having said that, not all of the loose ends are tied up with a bow in this novel and it seems Osborn has left herself space to carry aspects of the plot into a third novel, particularly in matters concerning Travis and his charismatic son Billy.
This is a slower read than Bella’s Run; it’s one to take your time with rather than a page-turner. It is, of course, romantic – both in the boy-meets-girl sense and in its celebration of rural life, but it also has something to say about contemporary Australian society. The difficulties experienced by certain characters in terms of marriage disputes and custody arrangements, for example, as well as issues like maintaining independence in old age cut across all sectors of society, rural or urban. The addition of these more substantial subplots make this a meaty sort of romance novel – and probably serve to make the story’s actual central romance, when it finally takes shape, all the more satisfying.
Hope’s Road is published by Random House and I thank them for my review copy, via NetGalley.
Random House is sharing the first few chapters of Hope’s Road at their website. Click here for a sneak peak!
This review forms part of Margareta Osborn’s blog tour for Hope’s Road which landed yesterday at Sam Still Reading and travels tomorrow to Ravens Reading Room. Visit their blogs for a different spin on the novel.
Finally, this review forms part of my reading and reviewing contribution to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013.