Tuesday, 25 July 2017 / No comments

Ache by Eliza Henry-Jones

Title: Ache
Author: Eliza Henry-Jones
Publisher: HarperCollins
Date of Publication: June 1st 2017
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Netgalley


A year ago, a devastating bushfire ripped Annie's world apart - killing her grandmother, traumatising her young daughter and leaving her mother's home in the mountains half destroyed. Annie fled back to the city, but the mountain continues to haunt her. Now, drawn by a call for help from her uncle, she's going back to the place she loves most in the world, to try to heal herself, her marriage, her daughter and her mother. 
A heart-wrenching, tender and lovely novel about loss, grief and regeneration, Ache is not only a story of how we can be broken, but how we can put ourselves back together.


Much of Australia's native flora has evolved to flourish in our harsh conditions. Fire is a necessary part of the cycle. Old growth is burnt back, seeds are released and new growth follows.  Our first inhabitants knew that, and used it to their advantage, but towns and cities no longer allow for that cycle to take place. 

I've never been in a bushfire, I've always been safely ensconced in the suburbs. The Ash Wednesday fires were near enough that we had burnt leaves blown into our swimming pool, and one of the teachers at my school lost horses, and her husband, but we weren't personally affected. I can remember driving along the Hume, burnt tracts of land either side of the highway, still smouldering, as we headed up to my grandparents' farm. The lingering smell of smoke burning my eyes, but it was all removed from us. We were safe. We hadn't lost anything. More recently the Black Friday fires took many lives and destroyed many homes. I was in England, and watched the coverage on the news where they were described as "wild fires" rather than bushfires. When we moved back to Melbourne we visited Kinglake. Even after a couple of years you could see the black path the fire had taken, the houses destroyed, the pub left standing. The thing about bushfires is that they are so unpredictable. There is no way of knowing which way the wind will blow, or how a spark will fall. One house can be left standing among dozens that have been completely destroyed. It is, literally and figuratively, the stuff of nightmares. It's also a yearly reality for many rural Australians.

Ache is set a year after a devastating fire tears through Annie's mountain home town. She and her daughter, Pip, got off the mountain to safety but many others, including Annie's grandmother, didn't. Annie has been trying to get over the trauma, the horrors that she witnessed, but she's unable to settle down in the city. When her Uncle Len calls to say her mother isn't doing so well, she and Pip head back up the mountain, leaving her husband, Tom behind.

Susan, Annie's mother, is living on cupcakes, all she now cooks, in the ruins of the house she shared with her mother, Gladys, who died during the fires. The town is starting to recover, but it's still on edge. The fires have brought out the best and worst in people. The community banded together to support those who'd been affected, but has also become mistrustful.  Annie not only has her own trauma to deal with, she also has her six year old, Pip, who insists on being called Phillip and wraps a smelly green scarf around her head at all times. She's never had the easiest relationship with her mother, so sorting Susan out as well is not an easy task.

Ache is achingly beautiful. It's a slow unfolding of grief and trauma and healing. It is evocative and visceral. It speaks to that part of us that both fears and is fascinated by fire, and addresses the longing for home, whether that be a place or a person. It is a book to be savoured, rather than devoured. The bush recovers from the trauma of fire, and Ache shows us that sometimes, people do too.

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