In Fiona Lowe’s novel, Birthright we are plunged into the complex relationships of the Jamieson family and into the social life of the town of Mingunyah in the foothills of the Victorian Alps.
The novel opens on Mothers’ Day with the Jamieson matriarch, Margaret, holding court over her family and blind to the fact that her daughters and daughter-in-law are also mothers. These opening scenes set the tone of the novel beautifully establishing the relationships between the family members and their place in the town.
Margaret, a widow of many years, reveres her late husband, Kevin and idolises her son Cameron, an estate agent who has recently come back to live in the town with his beautiful wife Anna and their two younger daughters. She is constantly critical of her daughter, Sarah a successful businesswoman who works with her husband Alex. They have one son left at home. Ellie, the much younger daughter has recently returned to a nearby town with her son, Nathan after years away to take up a position settling in Burmese refugees to the community. Ellie’s relationships with her family are strained.
While these tensions are evident on Mothers’ Day, they quickly come to a head when Sarah discovers Alex and a worker in an overly friendly situation and Alex announces he needs space, which Sarah promptly gives him. Margaret’s mental health is beginning to deteriorate and through a series of flashbacks through the eyes of different characters, the reader learns the truth behind the wealth and position of this privileged family.
While much of the book concentrates on inheritance of wealth, for me, the major interest was the interplay of relationships over a long period of time.
This is an easy and engrossing book to read and I found it involving. Would Sarah and Alex work out their problems despite serious problems? What was going on with their son Gus? Would Cameron get his comeuppance? Would Anna’s security be shattered? What was behind Ellie’s wild youth? Could she find happiness?
Fiona Lowe’s characterisation is such that the reader cares what happens, and while it is a novel with strong female characters, the men are also strong and their problems are sympathetically drawn and acknowledged. Indeed, the book is dedicated to the men in the author’s life. The most unsympathetic character is the matriarch, Margaret.
The town and the relationships of people in the town are realised convincingly. There is the hierarchy of the town’s wealthy, the focus on the football team, the secrets the town keeps for its own from outsiders, the cliques of the mothers, the excitement of the high school musical. The town is not immune from the issues facing Australia as a whole such as the acceptance of refugees and the acknowledgement of homosexual relationships.
The beautiful countryside of the foothills of the Victorian Alps provides strength and calm to many of the characters.
If you enjoy stories of family and personal relationships set in Australia, I can recommend this book.