Copy borrowed from Rachael
After a tragedy that haunts her in the city hospital where she was working, doctor Daniella needs a change and she figures that a small town might just be the thing to help her get over her nerves. She’ll be working closely with the other local doctor and the nurses, she’ll be well supported and hopefully, she just might be able to move on from the terrible event that still weighs so much on her mind.
Quickly Daniella finds a friend and settles into the small community although it doesn’t really feel like home yet. She hasn’t even unpacked and spends little time in the home that comes with the job. She also catches the eye of local farmer Mark Walker who lives 50k’s out of town on one of the local area’s largest properties. As their friendship turns into a budding relationship, Daniella wonders if she might be able to stay in Ryders Ridge. But she’s a doctor, and still a young one with a lot to learn and experience. Settling in Ryders Ridge might mean sacrificing advancement in her chosen career.
Mark and his father had a tough few years and they accepted some outside investment into their farm. It was a relationship that never sat totally well with them, although they accepted that they’d needed it at the time. Now it seems like there’s pressure coming from every direction to sell to overseas interest. Everything Mark has is invested in the next sales and whether or not they’ll make a profit and can begin paying back the debts. Mark needs and wants a woman who is going to stick around and not someone who will ever make it seem like a choice, her or the farm.
A couple of months ago, I read Iron Junction by Australian rural author Charlotte Nash, not realising that it was kind of loosely linked to her first novel, Ryders Ridge. You can read both stand alone as they take place on opposite sides of Australia but the hero of Iron Junction is Will Walker, the brother of Mark, the hero in this book and late in the book, they visit Ryders Ridge and we meet Daniella and Mark. For readers of Ryders Ridge, that would’ve been a lovely little glimpse into seeing how they were doing. I decided then and there that I really wanted to go back and read Ryders Ridge given that I’d enjoyed Iron Junction and Will so much. And so the lovely Rachael Johns generously loaned me her copy.
I immediately warmed to Daniella as she settled into her new town and wanted to know what it was that had sent her running from the city. It’s clear that something terrible has happened, something that she can’t quite get over. You can put together a few ideas based on the panic she feels in certain situations. I loved the friendship she develops with Jackie, a nurse in the clinic and the way that Jackie teases Daniella into the small society, getting her to be a little more involved but without totally throwing her into the deep end. Jackie has her own sort of sub-plot in this book and I enjoyed that just as much as I did the budding romance and complications of Mark and Daniella.
I like the way Mark and Daniella grow as a couple – both of them have other interests that keep them apart. Daniella has to be close to the clinic/hospital. She and the other doctor take turns being on call overnight and there are times when Daniella just cannot leave the small town and travel the 50k’s out to Mark’s farm. Likewise Mark has a lot going on with the farm and the investors and trying to pull through after several years of drought and a devastating fire. Both of them remain very much separate to each other as much as they are together, as they both have ambitions and responsibilities that keep them apart. Barely after they get together, the other doctor sends Daniella on a rotation to Mt Isa for experience. The thing is, the two of them make it work. They want to be together and they find ways to see it each other but they also respect each other’s need for distance too. It isn’t until Mark realises that Daniella hasn’t unpacked and may have absolutely no plans to ever stick around, that things begin to become difficult.
I liked this book just as much as I liked Iron Junction and really got invested in the characters, their problems and their relationships. I wanted Mark to be able to find a way to free himself and the farm from the outside investors and I wanted Daniella to be able to find that balance between staying with Mark and finding happiness but also challenging herself with her career and I think it’s fantastic this was considered as necessary by so many people, including Mark. I loved the setting, which was not really somewhere that I’m overly familiar with. I appreciate the rurals that take me into unfamiliar territory (and let’s face it, given where I’ve lived, most of the country is unfamiliar territory!). I hope that Charlotte Nash keeps writing books linking them loosely together in this way. I mentioned that I’d love to see a book featuring Daniella’s brother and I’d like to see Will and Mark’s sister in her own book too at some stage.
Book #126 of 2014
Ryders Ridge is the 46th novel read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014