Title: The Sunburnt Country
Author: Fiona Palmer
Published: Penguin Australia February 2013
Status: Read from February 25 to 28, 2013 — I own a copy
The Sunburnt Country is Fiona Palmer’s fourth engaging novel set in the regional area of her home state, Western Australia. In a small country town where the residents are struggling to survive the drought, bankers are the enemy.
Jonelle Baxter dreads having to meet with the new Bundara bank manager, her mechanical repair business is not in good financial shape despite keeping her as busy as ever and she is risking bankruptcy by falling behind in her loan repayments. She doesn’t expect to be attracted to the suited city boy who threatens everything she loves.
Daniel Tyler is in town to do a job, he has two months to tie up loose ends before the permanent bank manager will arrive and then he can return to his comfortable city life and a significant promotion. He doesn’t expect to find a home in Bundara… or love with the town’s only mechanic.
I found Jonelle aka “Jonny” a very likable character (though not her name so much). As a mechanic with a love of dirt car racing and a Torana her most prized, she is a little different to most romantic heroines, though definitely a tomboy she is still feminine. Her loyalty to her family, friends and community is her best trait. She risks her own business, accepting barter and delayed payment, in order to support those doing it tough and serves as an volunteer rescue crew member. She is close with her family which includes brother Zach and best friend Nae (Renee,) who provide a secondary romantic subplot and when childhood friend Ryan falls apart, she doesn’t hesitate to do all she can to help him get back on his feet.
Jonny’s close family and friendships contrast with Daniel’s lack of genuine relationships. His relationship with his father is complicated by the man’s narrow focus on work and his estrangement from his mother and younger brother after his parent’s divorce. Daniel is still very much in his father’s shadow but his time in Bundara gives him a fresh perspective. I liked the way in which Palmer developed Daniel’s character, though as a hero he was perhaps a little too passive for my tastes.
The romance between Jonelle and Daniel is fairly low key, developing naturally and pleasingly not beset by simple misunderstandings. There are good reasons for their wariness with each other – Jonelle will never leave Bundara while Daniel has a life in the city to return to. Though the romance is a feature of the novel, I really like that the author doesn’t rely on their relationship to promote personal growth for each of her characters. The decisions both Jonelle and Daniel make are about their individual needs, not the romance between them.
Fiona Palmer authentically captures the spirit of a community doing it tough, waiting for the rain, and I really liked the way in which she showed how the effects of the drought affect not only the farmers, but the town as a whole. She also touches on the issues of depression and suicide as Ryan struggles to deal with the end of his marriage and his failing farm.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Sunburnt Country, just as in The Road Home, Palmer’s own passion for the land bleeds into the story, her scenes are vivid and genuine, just as her characters are. This is another Australian rural fiction title I am happy recommend.
Available to Purchase