Review: The Cedar Tree by Nicole Alexander

Title: The Cedar Tree

Author: Nicole Alexander

Published: March 2020, Bantam

Read: March 2020 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Au

++++++

My Thoughts:

The Cedar Tree is a compelling generational saga by Nicole Alexander.

“She supposed that all of them were branded, in some way. By parents and lovers, siblings and friends, even husbands and wives. And some cuts went far deeper than others.”

In 1864 cousins, Brandon and Sean O’Riain, are accused of murder and, forced to flee Ireland or be hanged, they emigrate to Australia. There they find work as cedar cutters in Richmond Valley, northern NSW, but while Brandon looks towards the future, Sean can’t let go of the past.

In 1949, Stella O’Riain, recently widowed, arrives at her brother-in- law’s cane sugar farm in the Richmond Valley where she has agreed to care for his injured wife in return for bed and board. Here, Stella hopes to find answers that will explain her husband’s obsession with their former home, Kirooma Station in the far west of NSW, that ultimately lead to his death.

Exploring the themes of family, duty, faith, and freedom, the narrative of The Cedar Tree unfolds primarily from the perspectives of Brandon O’Riain and Stella O’Riain, alternating between timelines until it reaches the point the two characters intersect.

I was quickly caught up in the conflicts between the O’Riain cousins as Brandon’s repeated attempts to protect his cousin from Sean’s own selfish and reckless behaviour backfires, eventually leading to an accident that results in a deep rift between them. Unwilling to accept responsibility for his own actions, Sean nurtures a grudge so strong it blights the lives of his sons, Harry and Joe.

I found Stella to be a sympathetic character as a naive young woman who finds herself out of her depth on an isolated property with an inattentive husband. His death, and the death of her child, leaves her desperate to understand the choices Joe O’Riain made, but for which his estranged brother, Harry, purports to have no answers. As the two timelines converge however Stella finally learns some of the secrets that provides her with explanation she craves, and reveals her own.

With a strong sense of place, interesting historical detail, and compelling characterisation, The Cedar Tree is a well-written, absorbing tale sure to engage and entertain.

++++++

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Review: Absolution Creek by Nicole Alexander

@ Goodreads

Title: Absolution Creek

Author: Nicole Alexander

Published: Random House Australia September 2012

Synopsis: In 1923 nineteen-year-old Jack Manning watches the construction of the mighty Harbour Bridge and dreams of being more than just a grocer’s son. So when he’s offered the chance to manage Absolution Creek, a sheep property 800 miles from Sydney, he seizes the opportunity. But outback life is tough, particularly if you’re young, inexperienced and have only a few textbooks to guide you. Then a thirteen-year-old girl, Squib Hamilton, quite literally washes up on his doorstep – setting in motion a devastating chain of events… Forty years later and Cora Hamilton is waging a constant battle to keep Absolution Creek in business. She’s ostracized by the local community and hindered by her inability to move on from the terrible events of her past, which haunt her both physically and emotionally. Only one man knows what really happened in 1923. A dying man who is riding towards Absolution Creek, seeking his own salvation… From the gleaming foreshores of Sydney Harbour to the vast Australian outback, this is a story of betrayal and redemption and of an enduring love which defies even death. Read an excerpt

Status: Read from November 25 to 27, 2012 — I own a copy {Courtesy TheReadingRoom/ Random House Australia}

My Thoughts:

As a fourth generation grazier, Nicole Alexander writes what she knows, sweeping sagas set in Australia’s rural farming land. Absolution Creek is her third novel, with dual narratives set in 1923 and 1965.

Jack Manning is eager to escape the family run grocery store in Sydney’s grimy city streets and make his fortune so when a kindly neighbour offers him the opportunity to make a living on the land he jumps at the chance. Promising to send for his sweetheart, Olive, in a few months, Jack sets off to Absolution Creek determined to establish New South Wales finest station. With only a few books to guide him he purchases sheep and begins the arduous task of taming the bush.
More than forty years later, as an old man begins his journey from southern Queensland in search of redemption, Cora chases a wild pig from the banks of Absolution Creek in the predawn light and considers the imminent arrival of the niece she has never met, and her plan for revenge against the step sister who destroyed her family.

Initially the shift between timelines is quite disorientating as the characters seem entirely unrelated but as the narrative unfolds revealing the past and present, the stunning connections between Jack, Scrubber, Cora slowly begins to emerge. Three quarters of the way through the lengthy book I was tempted to complain about the sheer crowd of characters but as the book concludes each finds a path that adds to the depth of the plot. It was Squib’s, and later Cora’s, story I found most intriguing though, as the epicenter for novel’s story.

The historical details in the novel are fascinating, beginning with the forced acquisition of homes and businesses to make way for the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, I can barely imagine the city without the iconic structure in place. I was also unfamiliar with the story of the ram featured on our fifty cent piece, (I am sure I have mentioned it before but Australian history was completely neglected when I was at school and I am constantly amazed at what I am finally learning through fiction) which I found interesting. At least I know a little about the hard work it took (and still takes) to farm in rural Australia and I felt Alexander’s portrayal of the life authentic.

Absolution Creek is a complex tale of love, betrayal, jealousy, murder and revenge. I found it to be an absorbing read and I’d recommend Absolution Creek to fans of both historical fiction and the rural lit/romance genres. I am only sorry it took it’s time making it’s way to the top of my reading list.

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