Penguin Books AUS
Copy courtesy of the publisher
For Tegan Bliss, managing the family property has been her lifelong ambition. Her brother didn’t seem particularly interested and Tegan had worked hard, saved hard, to be able to accomplish her goal. But then she was betrayed by the people that should have protected her, the ones that should have fostered and nurtured her ambition. And Tegan was left devastated, homeless, directionless and feeling alone.
To heal, she heads to her aunt’s property in Falls Valley New South Wales, far away from her childhood home. Tegan’s aunt Vanessa is much younger than Tegan’s mother and Tegan has always known there’s been some tension. For her, this is a perfect place to recuperate and regroup. Vanessa is a fabulous host and her place is always humming with visitors who pop by for Vanessa’s popular cocktail hour. There are plenty of animals for Tegan to bond with – and some she’d rather not. She finds herself a job working with horses and then there’s Lucas Knight, the local farrier. Possibilities are endless.
But the sanctuary Tegan seeks can’t last forever and she’s stunned when she’s followed to Vanessa’s by someone she’d rather not see, who brings up the memory of pain and betrayal. She throws herself into local politics, something that Vanessa knows can’t end well. Tegan is already in a fragile state of mind and when she realises just how many people around her are still keeping secrets, it’s going to tear her apart.
The Falls is Cathryn Hein’s fifth novel and is very loosely linked to the previous, Rocking Horse Hill. Tegan is one of Emily from RHH’s best friends and her story begins in that novel as her ambition and later devastation is showcased alongside Emily’s story. In the opening of this story, Tegan has arrived at the property of her aunt Vanessa in New South Wales, needing some time to get away and recover from the betrayal she experienced and the loss of her home. Tegan is angry – very angry and she’s also suffering from a sort of blackness that threatens to take hold of her. At times her voice is quite dark and it’s clear that Tegan is a person who is experiencing a lot of pain without a way to vent it.
Unfortunately there’s no getting around the fact that I have a couple of issues with this book, things that didn’t particularly work for me. For a start, it does feel a bit overlong and there’s a lot of filler scenes where random people just roll up to Vanessa’s to drink specific drinks on specific days and at times, it doesn’t feel like these scenes do anything to advance the plot (or in some cases, Lucas and Tegan’s very fledgling romance). The character of Vanessa didn’t do much for me individually but when put together with businessman Dominic, who owned a nearby rehabilitation centre and wellness facility that was controversial for the locals, she became interesting. Actually for a while there, Vanessa and Dominic’s dance around each other was far more interesting than anything else happening in the book and they do have quite an appealing chemistry.
It’s rare for me not to love a Hein hero but I didn’t really fall in love with Lucas. Their first meeting was awkward, especially when he told Tegan that although he found her physically attractive and his type, she was too skinny. I don’t believe that should be any more acceptable than telling someone that she’s his type but too fat. Tegan does have reasons for being underweight but I don’t feel as though anyone does her any favours by addressing these in a productive way. Instead people just tell her she’s too skinny (including the guy she’s attracted to) which tends to just make her self esteem even worse and she’s always thinking of ways to hide her skinny body or wondering if Lucas is repulsed by it. When they do begin to put together a tentative relationship, Lucas seems to take on far too much responsibility for Tegan’s general mental health and stability, which doesn’t take much to figure out can’t end well. He doesn’t help the situation by keeping things from her – things that to be honest, wouldn’t be too earth shattering in a normal situation but with Tegan’s prejudice and issues, end up being just another sign to her that people betray her and don’t trust her.
Interestingly enough, my favourite scene with Tegan is when she stands up for herself and lets fly at one of the people that hurt her. It might be the wrong one in a way – someone more enabling than guilty but I felt such satisfaction that Tegan was getting a chance to actually tell people how she felt, how utterly devastated and betrayed she was, how angry and how disappointed because it seems as though this is a bit glossed over. It’s also a scene that causes other characters to turn on her for going too far so maybe I’m just the bloodthirsty sort who enjoys a good chance for vengeance. I actually don’t think there was anything wrong with how angry Tegan was apart from the fact that she wasn’t moving on from it even when things started to turn around. Venting that anger should’ve been a natural part of it, instead she’s made feel ashamed about it which seems to only make things worse when she believes that people who have supported her are now upset with her. Tegan’s anger was justified, at least to me. She should’ve gotten to aim it at one more person too, before she embarked on her journey of therapy and healing!
For me The Falls was not without its issues but it’s still a very readable and enjoyable story focusing on putting yourself and your family back together again after both have been torn apart. Tegan does experience a lot of personal growth in the book and her relationship with Lucas can only grow and strengthen as well once everything is out in the open and they can focus on themselves rather than the myriad of issues and secrets around them. I really enjoyed the setting in this book, the property where Tegan comes to try and heal and there’s a lot of colour in the local community and as always, a few animals of character to lighten things up! There is a third book to come, featuring Emily and Tegan’s friend Jasmine and I am dying to read that and see precisely what Jasmine’s story is from the snippets we’ve been fed by her friends.
Book #73 of 2015
The Falls is book #27 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015