Review: The Memory Tree by Tess Evans

Title: The Memory Tree

Author: Tess Evans

Published: Allen & Unwin Australia Feb 2012

Synopsis: When Paulina dies mid-dance, she leaves 12-year-old Zav and 7-year-old Sealie with their loving but unstable father, Hal. The grieving family decides to plant a tree in her memory – a magnolia which, growing along with the children, offers a special place where secrets are whispered and feelings can be confessed.
But as the memory tree grows, Hal, bereft, and increasingly suspicious of the world, turns to his own brand of salvation to make sense of the voices that bewilder and torment him. Mrs Mac, housekeeper and second mother since Paulina’s death, cooks, cleans, loves and worries about her ‘family’. She is even more concerned when Hal brings a larger-than-life stranger to the house for a beer; but Pastor Moses B. Washbourne, founder of the Church of the Divine Conflagration, ex-sergeant of the US Army, soon becomes part of the family, with surprising and far-reaching consequences.
As the seasons pass, Sealie blossoms into young woman, the apple of Hal’s eye while Zav, having spent his childhood quietly trying to win his father’s lost attention, is conscripted for duty in Vietnam.
And all the while, the voices continue to murmur poisonous words to Hal who knows he must keep them hidden . . . until he is persuaded into the most tragic of acts.

Status: Read from February 21 to 22, 2012 – I own a copy {Courtesy Allen & Unwin Australia}

My Thoughts:

The Memory Tree is the story of a family shattered by the unexpected death of wife and mother, Paulina. Spanning a period of almost 40 years the novel reveals a family fractured by grief, devastated by tragedy and longing for freedom from the losses that torment them. Tess Evans explores the everyday, and life changing, moments that bind the Rodriguez family in joy and sorrow, with compassion and tenderness.

The narrative moves between the past and present revealing the changes wrought to the family in the aftermath of Paulina’s sudden passing. Hal is broken by the loss of his wife and while he rallies briefly with the help of housekeeper, Mrs Mac and lay preacher Godown Moses, he slowly slips into a cyclical fugue of depression and mania. Zav (Xavier) and Sealie (Selina) witness their mothers death but it is the aftermath that changes who they are. Hal pulls away from Zav in a misguided attempt to ‘raise a man’, seeding bitterness and resentment. Sealie’s good nature protects her from her father’s developing eccentricities but traps her in the role as first her father’s, and then her brother’s, carer.
The Memory Tree has an unique narrator whose identity is not confirmed until late in the novel. I thought this added a particular poignancy to the story and provided an unusual twist. The third person point of view allows the reader to explore events from multiple perspectives, providing insight into Hal’s distorted thinking, Sealie’s self-sacrificing anxiety and Zav’s simmering anger. Evan’s protagonists are complex characters shaped by both nature and nurture. They provoke both sympathy and frustration, but are intriguing precisely because they are so contradictory.
The story of the past is obviously building to a pivotal event that explains the issues the family is facing in the present. It is difficult to say much more that that without spoiling the plot. The tension simmers quietly throughout the novel, so you know something is coming, but at times the story seems to meander aimlessly until it is pulled sharply together at its denouement.

Wonderfully written, there is much to admire about this literary family drama. The Memory Tree is an insightful novel that examines the strength and fragility of familial relationships, the devastation of mental illness and the grace of forgiveness.


About the Author

Tess Evans was born in suburban Melbourne and now live among the trees in Eltham, She is  married with three grown children and four grandchildren. She has been an educator for much of her life, but early retirement sparked an interest in writing which resulted in the publication of her first novel, Book of Lost Threads being published in 2010. The Memory Tree is her second novel.

Available to Purchase

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

International: @Amazon

12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jenny Schwartz (@Jenny_Schwartz)
    Feb 29, 2012 @ 16:15:23

    I don’t tend to read multi-year books. I’m not sure why I imagine them to be overwrought drama??? but this sounds intriguing. I think in some ways we (as a society) are still coming to terms with Vietnam War, and now we have Afghan and Iraq veterans to deal with.



  2. The Australian Bookshelf
    Feb 29, 2012 @ 18:03:00

    This is not a book I would typically pick up, but it sounds like it has interesting, complex characters and an engaging plot. It seems the loss in their family has many repurcussions and effects the children in different ways for life. Great to hear about another Aussie author that i am unfamiliar with!



    • shelleyrae @ Book'd Out
      Mar 01, 2012 @ 00:49:48

      I had not heard of her either Jayne though her first book was a best seller. I plan to pick that up when I can as well.



  3. mari (Bookworm with a View)
    Feb 29, 2012 @ 23:59:27

    I’m finding so many new book by reading your blog!

    ps: I received The Underside… yesterday. Can’t wait to start it!



  4. Patty
    Mar 01, 2012 @ 05:58:01

    Ooh…it sounds really good!!!



  5. Nikki-ann
    Mar 01, 2012 @ 07:27:39

    This isn’t a book I’d necessarily pick up, but it sounds quite good! Brilliant review, thanks 🙂



  6. Sam (Tiny Library)
    Mar 01, 2012 @ 08:54:23

    I don’t usually like these kind of family-centered books, but you’ve made this one sound very appealing 🙂



  7. Trackback: My BookClub Reviews » Blog Archive » The Memory Tree – Tess Evans
  8. Trackback: Contemporary, Popular, Mainstream, Women’s Fiction: 2102 Tally | Australian Women Writers Challenge Blog

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