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Review: The Orchardist’s Daughter by Karen Viggers

on February 13, 2019

The Orchardist’s Daughter
Karen Viggers
Allen & Unwin
2019, 386p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

A story of freedom, forgiveness and finding the strength to break free. International bestselling writer Karen Viggers returns to remote Tasmania, the setting of her most popular novel The Lightkeeper’s Wife.

Sixteen-year-old Mikaela has grown up isolated and home-schooled on an apple orchard in southeastern Tasmania, until an unexpected event shatters her family. Eighteen months later, she and her older brother Kurt are running a small business in a timber town. Miki longs to make connections and spend more time in her beloved forest, but she is kept a virtual prisoner by Kurt, who leads a secret life of his own.

When Miki meets Leon, another outsider, things slowly begin to change. But the power to stand up for yourself must come from within. And Miki has to fight to uncover the truth of her past and discover her strength and spirit.

Set in the old-growth eucalypt forests and vast rugged mountains of southern Tasmania, The Orchardist’s Daughter is an uplifting story about friendship, resilience and finding the courage to break free.

I found this story really interesting in lots of different ways.

Mikaela lived a very isolated life on her parent’s farm. Her father had strong ideas about what constituted men’s work and what was women’s work and Mikaela stayed mostly inside being homeschooled in Jesus by her mother and helping with chores. Occasionally though, her father allowed her outside work and these times were her favourite. She has a real connection to the land and after her parents are lost in a house fire and the farm sold, she moves with her brother Kurt, 10yrs her senior to a logging town. There they run a fish and chip shop while Kurt saves for them to purchase another farm.

As Mikaela approaches 18, she dreams of freedom. It’s what she should be experiencing, freed from the oppressiveness of her home life but instead Kurt seeks to restrict her more and more. He doesn’t like her talking to the customers but his own demeanour is less than friendly to the people they rely on for their livelihood. He doesn’t allow her to go out on her own, locking her inside the premises at the back of the shop when he goes out. Mikaela is concerned about the flashy new purchases that Kurt is making when they should be saving for a farm, to get back on the land. That’s what she desperately wants.

Leon is new to town, a ‘Parkie’ which puts him at odds with a lot of the locals who are loggers by trade. Tensions are simmering in the small town, ready to reach boiling point as the logging is shut down and the men are without work. Leon tries to fit in by playing for the local footy team but he faces ostracisation and hostility, people making assumptions about him before even getting to know him and what he stands for. You’re either a logger or you’re not – and if you’re not, then they’re against you.

Leon and Mikaela don’t interact a lot at first, but his appearance in town is the catalyst to a lot of things being set in motion. Leon befriends the son of his neighbour and tries his best to integrate himself into the town in lots of different ways. I really enjoyed the budding friendship between Leon and Max, the young boy next door who is struggling with a bullying issue at school and struggling with home issues as well. Leon is perhaps the first one to really notice what’s going on with Max as well and not just dismissing it as a school kids being school kids type of thing. Leon is remarkably persistent, even in the face of some pretty awful treatment by some of the men in town, determined to forge good relationships and try and fit in. I guess he knows his job and life will be easier if he can be accepted and he’s willing to do whatever that takes. Leon’s willingness to help in troubled times and the fact that he keeps just showing up means that eventually people start coming around to him.

Leon also forms a friendship with Mikaela, connected to the wilderness. Mikaela loves being outside in the forest and she’s passionate about preserving and saving the local wildlife. She has a connection to the local Tasmanian devil population and she manages to sneak out for several trips to help monitor them. The more time Mikaela spends with others (not just Leon, also some other locals) the more she realises that what is happening to her is wrong. She’s legally an adult now, even if her brother says that she cannot be independent until she’s 21. She should have the right to come and go as she pleases. Instead her life is shaped by her brother’s moods – sometimes Kurt is in a good mood and they go explore the forest and he’ll answer questions about his childhood. But most of the time Kurt’s moods aren’t good and this is when Mikaela knows any sort of effort to engage him will be futile. Kurt’s moods are also escalating as well, trapping Mikaela in a steadily increasing dangerous environment.

There’s quite a lot of (mostly off page) violence in this novel. One of the men on the football team regularly beats his wife and the town seems to turn a blind eye. There’s Max’s trouble with an older school boy, which also seems to largely go unnoticed for a long time, other than by Leon and to a lesser extent, Mikaela. There’s Kurt’s restrictive treatment of Mikaela, locking her up and sending her to the back whenever he doesn’t want her talking to people in the shop. He becomes more and more paranoid as well, particularly after witnessing a few interactions with Leon. And then there’s Leon’s home life, which is bleak also. His ill father isn’t able to cope with being a shadow of his former self and tends to take it out on Leon’s mother when Leon isn’t around. Leon’s mother constantly forgives him and urges Leon to do the same, thereby sweeping it under the rug and diminishing it in importance.

As a reader, I really enjoyed the role that books played in the narrative with Mikaela. She loves reading but her brother restricts her access. However Mikaela discovers a kind local who is happy to lend her books – choosing them rather carefully I thought so that Mikaela might learn something from each one she reads. Mikaela has lovely insight and it’s clear that she should really be finishing a more formal education, studying literature or something similar, as she works towards returning to the land in some way, which is ‘home’ for her.

This was a really intriguing story showcasing issues of family violence, the struggle of making a living versus conservation and small town dynamics. I really appreciated the setting and the deeply flawed characters and their relationships. The writing is beautiful and drew me into the story from the very first page and kept me riveted until the end.


Book #27 of 2019


2 responses to “Review: The Orchardist’s Daughter by Karen Viggers

  1. Same! Very thought provoking novel.

  2. […] The Orchardist’s Daughter by Karen Viggers. My review. […]

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