All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Bruny by Heather Rose

on October 29, 2019

Heather Rose
Allen & Unwin
2019, 424p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

How far would your government go?

A right-wing US president has withdrawn America from the Middle East and the UN. Daesh has a thoroughfare to the sea and China is Australia’s newest ally. When a bomb goes off in remote Tasmania, Astrid Coleman agrees to return home to help her brother before an upcoming election. But this is no simple task. Her brother and sister are on either side of politics, the community is full of conspiracy theories, and her father is quoting Shakespeare. Only on Bruny does the world seem sane.

Until Astrid discovers how far the government is willing to go.

Bruny is a searing, subversive, brilliant novel about family, love, loyalty and the new world order.

How far indeed?

Astrid Coleman works as a conflict resolution officer for the United Nations, helping broker deals in some of the most war torn and dangerous parts of the world. But her home is Tasmania, even though she hasn’t lived there in many years. Her brother is the current Premier, her sister the leader of the Opposition. When the highly controversial bridge that is under construction connecting Tasmania to the small island of Bruny is bombed, her brother begs her to come home and help out, in an official capacity. Astrid is reluctant but she arrives in Tasmania to make peace between the various factions – those that don’t want the bridge and those that are for change.

This book is the very definition of ‘the plot thickens’. It starts off kind of slow, quite methodical, Astrid (Ace to her family) coming back to Tasmania after a lengthy absence and getting to know the key players, who is against the bridge, who is for the bridge, who might have sought to bring it down. What the fact that it has been bombed means in terms of the construction of the bridge and what happens now moving forward. The more Astrid talks to people the more information she gets that slowly starts raising her well trained alarm bells. Even her sister Max is sure, it’s more than just about the bridge. Something greater is going on here, some bigger master plan. And when Astrid finally realises what is going on, it is both an incredibly shocking, unexpected revelation and also, strangely, scarily plausible.

This is a brilliantly constructed story, so much is woven into it. It honours Tasmania and the beautiful landscape as well as serves as a warning for the future. The complex relationships in Astrid’s family were so interesting – their father was a stalwart Labor politician in Tasmania. Then he had one child on either side of the divide – a son that was a Liberal, a daughter that followed him into Labor. And Tasmania is the birth of the Greens as well, so there are three parties vying for supremacy in the up coming election. Despite the fact that Max, Astrid’s sister and JC, her brother and the premier, are at each other’s throats and opposites politically who regularly tear strips off each other in parliament, it’s managed not to affect their sibling relationship. With Astrid back as a supposedly impartial observer and conflict resolution expert, she finds herself desperately hoping that the things she feels she might uncover, won’t affect her own relationship with her siblings.

I really enjoyed Astrid’s family, particularly her elderly father who only speaks in Shakespearean quotes after quite a severe stroke. He used to be an actor and it seems as though the quotes are what has stuck when he cannot communicate in other ways. He has a plethora of them at his disposal and seems to politely interject them into conversation at the most relevant moments. His granddaughter, one of JC’s daughters, amuses herself by googling them for the play reference and keeps a record of the ones he speaks. Despite the fact that he cannot really communicate with Astrid except in pithy one liners from plays that are hundreds of years old, the two of them have a beautiful relationship that leaps off the page. She knows how much he loves them, perhaps loves them enough for two parents as Astrid has a somewhat more difficult relationship with her mother who was not what one would describe as maternal.

It concerns me that I feel as though what this book reaches for is not too far outside the realms of possibility. The world is changing – this is set at an undisclosed time in the future. The Queen of England is gone, replaced by a King. America have withdrawn from the Middle East (seems as though the first steps of that have been set in motion) and possess a foreign policy that makes countries like Australia have to look elsewhere for allies. There’s a lot of talk about how much land in Australia has been sold to foreign investment and in this book, fresh milk is flown from dairy farms in Tasmania overseas every week. Tasmania is rich in natural resources and its relatively small population keeps it that way but it’s ripe for over development just as much as anywhere and in Bruny there are already rumblings about various natural industries that are feeling the strain of over-commercialisation. The world’s population is growing and they will have to be fed somehow.

This was a very smart political thriller – it’s not all bombs and explosions like the one that begins the novel, it’s also about the quietness of digging into the background, investigating something based on little else but a suspicion and a hunch. Astrid is very good at what she does and there’s a good reason for that. I loved the reveals that come about 3/4 of the way in, the ways in which they explode across the page and stir up the population. The thing is, it is a thriller but it almost doesn’t feel like reading one. The language and word play is amazing, in times this book feels almost quiet and reflective and then in others it’s such sharp political commentary that it’s almost blistering. It’s the best of a bunch of genres, the family relationships, a bit of romance, the devotion to Tasmania and the profiling of it as a special place that deserves to be left as pristine as possible. The ‘jobs and growth’ bleat of the right in Australia which we’ve been battered with for years now, regimes obsessed with a surplus and willing to sacrifice the environment, health, education and pretty much anything else to get there. The incompetency of Labor to actually get most things done, the idealism of the Greens in their home state.

This kept me riveted – it’s the first of Heather Rose’s books that I’ve read but it definitely won’t be the last.


Book #175 of 2019

Bruny is book #67 of the Australian Women’s Writers Challenge for 2019

One response to “Review: Bruny by Heather Rose

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