Review: Purple Roads by Fleur McDonald

Title: Purple Roads

Author: Fleur McDonald

Published: Allen & Unwin Australia March 2012

Synopsis: Anna and Matt Butler were childhood sweethearts with a dream of owning their own land, a dream they achieved through hard work and determination.  But as the seasons conspire against them and Matt is involved in a terrible accident, the couple face financial ruin and the loss of their farm. As they fight for everything they hold dear, they suddenly find themselves caught up in events much bigger and more dangerous than they could ever have imagined.  Purple Roads is a story about maintaining faith in yourself, staying true to your ideals and, most of all, the belief that some things are worth fighting for. Read an excerpt

Status: Read from March 18 to 20, 2012 — I own a copy {Courtesy Allen & Unwin Australia}

My Thoughts:

Purple Roads is Fleur McDonald’s third novel set in rural Australia, a region and lifestyle that she is familiar with as a stock and crop farmer in Western Australia. Teetering on the brink of financial collapse after several harsh seasons, Anna and Matt Butler lose their farm when they are targeted by a thief. Anna is devastated but determined to provide the best life she can for the couple’s young daughter, hoping to eventually return to a life of farming. Matt however, is broken, angry and depressed, he is obsessed with discovering the identity of the thief that he holds responsible for the loss of his farm. As Matt’s bitterness drives a wedge between himself and his wife, he becomes reckless in his pursuit for justice and finds himself in danger of losing everything.

Purple Roads is a contemporary Australian story of rural life, relationships and family with a surprising twist. I say surprising, because I was expecting, based on the cover and a cursory glance at publicity materials, something more grounded in the romance or chick lit genre. Instead, Purple Roads has a strong element of suspense and while the state of the relationship between Anna and Matt is integral to the story, it does not play out as a traditional romance. I’m not sure if the publicity spin does the novel any favours, even if labeled more generically ‘women’s fiction’, it poses some issues given that Matt tends to edge out Anna as the protagonist of the story. However if I put aside the issues of which genre niche Purple Roads fits most comfortably, it is simply an enjoyable and engaging story.

Though written in the third person the story unfolds through several narratives. Matt and Anna’s stories moves on from the loss of their farm through a difficult year both together and apart, Jimmy’s begins during his memories of the Vietnam War and sporadically we are privy to the concerns of the unnamed thief in the midst of his crimes. Initially I thought the inclusion of Jimmy’s story was out of left field but it does eventually make sense within the context of the story. For me, however, Matt is the dominant character within the novel, despite the female profile that graces the cover. I think its because Matt’s emotions are more intense and he is more actively involved in the plot than Anna.

Childhood sweethearts, the loss of the farm divides them as Matt takes out his distress on Anna and spurns her support. The relationship between Anna and Matt is a feature of the plot and McDonald sensitively explores the breakdown of their marriage in a way that makes neither party the enemy, Matt’s tortured emotions are credible as is Anna’s frustration.
The suspense element hinges on Matt’s obsession with finding the culprits who stole the load of fertiliser that crippled his farm. To begin with Matt’s investigation is fairly aimless, even as he is harassed by a black sports car. It takes some time for him to do more than idly collect bits of information and I would have liked him to be more proactive from the start. The clues are there for the reader, though its not until the end of the book that it all comes together.
The depiction of the setting and rural lifestyle is certainly a strength of the novel, from the description of the Butler’s farm, to the country town general store and community. McDonald also features long haul truckers that criss cross the vast outback, routes familiar to her from traveling with her father.

I enjoyed Purple Roads, the blend of genres appeals to me and I always appreciate a strong Australian setting. I hope to read more from Fleur McDonald soon.

Available to purchase

Australia: @Allen & Unwin Australia I @BoomerangBooks I @Booktopia

International: Amazon US I Amazon UK I BookDepository

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. The Australian Bookshelf
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 18:22:23

    I think you’re right, Fleur’s books are difficult to categorise in genre as they don’t have the typical romance theme that most rural books have. But having read her other two novels,outback and suspense stands out for me in her writing. I thought it was an enjoyable read too.

    Reply

  2. reflectionsofabookaholic
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 15:23:19

    I definitely didn’t expect this book to be the way that you described. I think I would be more interested if there was a bigger romance element.

    Reply

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