All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The River Home by Hannah Richell

on February 26, 2020

The River Home 
Hannah Richell
Hachette AUS
2020, 368p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

The river can take you home. But the river can also drag you under…

‘It’s something she learned years ago – the hard way – and that she knows she will never forget: even the sweetest fruit will fall and rot into the earth, eventually. No matter how deep you bury the pain, the bones of it will rise up to haunt you … like the echoes of a summer’s night, like the river flowing relentlessly on its course.’

Margot Sorrell didn’t want to go home. She had spent all her adult life trying not to look behind. But a text from her sister Lucy brought her back to Somerset. ‘I need you.’

As Margot, Lucy and their eldest sister, Eve, reunite in the house they grew up in beside the river, the secrets they keep from each other, and from themselves, refuse to stay hidden. A wedding brings them together but long-simmering resentments threaten to tear the family apart. No one could imagine the way this gathering would change them all forever. And through the sorrow they are forced to confront, there is a chance that healing will also come. But only if the truth is told.

This is Hannah Richell’s fourth novel and it’s the story of a family with cracks. Eve, Lucy and Margot are sisters. Margot fled the family years ago and has rarely been seen since. However for the occasion of a wedding, refusing to attend is not really an option and so Margot finds herself back in her childhood home, back with the mother that resents her, a father that lives somewhere else now and two sisters that want to know why she left, why she did what she did, something that Margot has never been able to confide. She promises to be on her best behaviour though, not to stir anything up for the length of her stay. But sometimes, some promises are too difficult to keep.

Margot is in her mid-20s, she left home at 17 or so and has made her own way ever since. She’s obviously very angry about something and also hurting badly. She did something incredibly awful before she left, something that people can’t seem to get their heads around. Now Margot is back, her sister Lucy is getting married and everything is being planned in about a week, which is quite Lucy-esque. She’s a free spirit and it’s up to older sister Eve to assume to responsible role, organising catering and the marquee, drinks, music, flowers etc. The sisters seem to have some clearly defined roles and even as adults, they cannot seem to escape them.

Margot’s story comes out quite slowly – the book takes great care to fill in the background of the sisters’ parents, Kit and Ted and how they met, came to be together and their early years in the country home. Also how their roles reversed, how it was suddenly Kit that was the breadwinner and Ted fulfilled the day to day parenting role. The girls struggled with connecting to Kit as they grew up – she was always buried in her work, rarely ‘present’ in the way that they longed for. She forgot important things, she abandoned plans to work. They didn’t have friends over because she couldn’t be counted on not to do something embarrassing, like show up in the middle of the day in her pyjamas, or barely dressed at all. Her sisters being older meant that they left to go to college and live adult lives, which left Margot on her own, especially after their father moved out with the breakdown of the relationship. For Margot, this was just the beginning of her pain and it’s something you can see coming before it unfolds, although I didn’t actually expect it to be as deep and as severe as it was – not did I expect the staggering consequences and all of a sudden, Margot’s actions before she leaves home make sense with cold clarity.

This is a wonderfully written book, a book that deeply explores a fractured family and dissects their pain. The pain isn’t over either, because there are several revelations at the end of the novel, from both the past and also one that revolves around the present, that are incredibly distressing. There are a couple of scenes within this book that I feel would be incredibly difficult for some people to read, especially those that have experienced one or both of those incidents. It’s really hard to say this without spoiling the story, because it’s important in terms of why Margot….became the Margot of the present. They’re both vital pieces of the journey that led to her estrangement, the resentment she felt, the self-loathing, the destruction and they give the reader understanding to her actions, they make it very clear how much pain she was in and how no one really noticed. She had changed deeply, most I think putting it down to the changed living circumstances at the house, no one really tried to find out precisely why she was behaving the way she was and then it was basically too late. However that doesn’t change the fact that the scenes are really very confronting, quite graphic (especially the latter one). And for me, Lucy’s story is deeply affecting.

Hannah Richell creates an incredible atmosphere, an incredibly intriguing family and set of circumstances and lobs a few grenades that keep the story moving. I was so keen to find out the answers, what had happened both in the past and what was driving the plot forward in the future. It was gripping from start to finish.


Book #30 of 2020

The River Home is book #13 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2020





One response to “Review: The River Home by Hannah Richell

  1. Marg says:

    I am very much looking forward to reading this one! I did enjoy her last novel a lot.

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