All The Books I Can Read

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Review: Stars Over The Southern Ocean by J.H. Fletcher

on August 14, 2020

Stars Over The Southern Ocean
J.H. Fletcher
Harlequin MIRA
2020, 416p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

With her home and freedom on the line, will her family force her to leave it all behind?

1937 – Seventeen year old Marina Fairbrother has lived in the small logging town of Mole Creek, Tasmania, her whole life. When she meets Jory Trevelyan, she is intrigued by the young man with the strange name and his tales of the west coast. Stories of wild winds and a tumultuous sea leave her hungering for a freedom she hadn’t realised she lacked.

1993 – After a terminal diagnosis, Marina knows there is only one place she wants to spend her remaining days. The remote coastal property of Noamunga has been her home for the past fifty years. Her memories are imprinted on the walls of the house and the rocks of the cliffs. Here she raised their three children, loved deeply, survived a war, worked hard, grieved deeply and lived a good life.

But there are forces that threaten to pull her away from her beloved home. Daughters whose well-intentioned concerns hide selfish ambition, a son who puts his future in the hands of the wrong people, and an oil company intent on striking oil just off the coast of her land.

I have not read J.H. Fletcher before, although they have an incredibly extensive backlist. This one is set on the wild west coast of Tasmania in mostly two different timelines, although there are other points in time as well, to fill in backstory of several characters. In the more current timeline, which is in 1993, Marina has been dealt a terminal illness diagnosis however she has chosen to check herself out of hospital and return to her clifftop house, which is regularly battered by the weather and quite remote. It’s been her home for over 50 years and even the entreatment of her children, particularly eldest Charlotte and middle child Tamsyn, cannot convince her to sell the property and move to a more city location like Hobart, where both can keep an eye on her. Youngest child Gregory is overseas, developing a resort in Thailand – until he finds himself in trouble.

In the historical timeline, Marina is a young woman who meets a boy and follows him back to his home. It’s an entirely different landscape to what she’s used to and Jory, the man who took her to his home, is often away on fishing boats for long stretches, leaving her with his dying mother and his father, whom she does not trust. But Marina and Jory build a life together, interrupted as it is, by World War II and the demons Jory brings home with him. And in the 1990s, when her children, especially Charlotte, want her to leave, the memories of the life she has built and the love she has for her home force her to stubbornly stay put.

I enjoyed this book a lot – the setting was absolutely fascinating to me. I’ve never been to Tasmania and books I have read there have been more predominantly set on the east coast – around Hobart and Bruny. I don’t know a lot about Tasmania’s west coast and the house that Marina returns to in the opening chapter is set on top of a cliff and anchored into the rocks by steel pillars. When the tide is in, the waves even spray over the house. 12,000kms west across a stretch of vast Southern Ocean, lies Patagonia at the tip of South America. It honestly seemed like such an amazing place to live, although how practical it would be, I cannot say. It would take a tough person to live there year round, especially when that person is of older years and has just been diagnosed with an illness where it’s only a matter of time until it takes their life.

Marina’s life is an interesting one, full of tragedy and grief but also love and strength. She leaves her family behind at a very young age to go with Jory, across the country to where he grew up. And then she’s left with his parents, in what would be a difficult and uncomfortable situation as Jory’s mother is bedridden and dying, requiring care and his father is a somewhat gruff man who intimidates Marina at first. But Marina carves a niche for herself in this hard place, not only in the house but also in the closest town. Jory spends more time away than he does at home, firstly on the fishing boats and then later on, joining the Navy and serving in WWII. What Jory experiences is brutal beyond description and he returns a very different man to the one that left and is plagued constantly by demons, which he fights every day. Marina is supportive and caring, her love for Jory unending.

The narrative explores not just Marina’s choice to return to her home but also the lives of her children – Charlotte’s careful cultivating of her husband’s career, Tamsyn’s holiday to India and the circumstances thereof, Gregory’s dreams to develop a resort on an island in Thailand. In the present day, Marina finds herself under siege mostly from Charlotte, to sell her home and move away, for reasons which will mostly benefit Charlotte. Tamsyn and Gregory are more of a mind to let their mother do what makes her happy, although they do also have varying degrees of concern for her being there alone, particularly now that she is ill. Marina however, is a formidable character, determined and strong, knowing her own mind and not willing to be bullied, cowed, cajoled or otherwise, into doing something that she doesn’t want. It was easy to admire Marina, she is a person at peace with herself and her life. She knows what she wants, what will make her happy and that even though her life is now of uncertain duration, she’s willing to accept that and live out her remaining days in the way that she wants. And that’s in her home, the place she has lived for over 50 years and the place that has shaped her. It’s her children’s childhood home, even though they’ve all left and gone on to other things. She embraces the wildness of her home and it’s almost like she takes strength in her surroundings – the sea, the wildlife.

For me, the ending did feel a bit “magically things worked out for the best and everything ended up in the neatest of bows” but I actually enjoyed the way it was orchestrated.


Book #149 of 2020

One response to “Review: Stars Over The Southern Ocean by J.H. Fletcher

  1. Marg says:

    This sounds interesting.

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