September 26

The Ripping Tree by Nikki Gemmell

Happy days Readheads. Nikki and I are friends again. We weren’t for a while after I read I TAKE YOU but we’ve made up over The Ripping Tree. Oh, the relief.

What isn’t happy days though, is this book’s storyline. Oooph, it’s tough. Set in the years of Australia’s early settlement, you don’t need to be Einstein to know that life rarely ended well unless you were white and you were wealthy.

Recently orphaned Thomasina Trelora is sailing unhappily toward the colonies and an arranged marriage to the local clergyman but before reaching shore, a storm wrecks the ship and leaves Thomasina clinging to the rocks and her life. Close to death, an aboriginal man finds her and carries her to Willowbrae, a grand European house, where he leaves her naked and unconscious on the doorstep.

If only he had walked in the other direction.

Thomasina wakes, traumatised, suffering some amnesia about getting to the house but she quickly realises the gift of becoming someone else to escape her fate. Without a name or the memories she keeps to herself, the family and the entire colony thinks Thomasina Trelora perished in the storm. She can now be anyone the family wants her to be.

The youngest son ‘Mouse’ befriends her, renames her Poss and seems to be the only normal person in the family. Cocooned in the house and surrounded by harsh Australian bush, Mouse becomes the only way she can explore life outside but what she finds is a horrifying secret in the middle of the Willowbrae ‘dream’ and it exists outside and inside their walls.

It is dark and mortifying.

You can imagine (………try not to though).

While I really love reading Nikki’s (good) stories, and I did fly through this one, The Ripping Tree was a struggle simply because this family was so unlikable and I am sure I read it with a permanently etched scowl. If I could’ve sent someone to get Thomasina out myself, I would have. You’ll feel strongly about the characters and I’ll take a stab in the dark to say the cruelty, misogyny, the privilege and racism will your juices going and will leave you screaming ‘RUN!’, so this one’s a beauty for your book club.

Simply, the whole tale is unsettling and it gets right down into your bones because when Nikki Gemmell does it well, she kicks that freaking ball out of the park. Lucky us right Readheads? But how lucky Thomasina was, or wasn’t, in escaping Willowbrae, well, you’ll have to pick The Ripping Tree up to find out.

But that is just my two cents worth.