Review by Karen O’Brien-Hall
Many bookaholics admit to reading everything an author has to offer then, figuratively, holding their breath until a new title is released.
This is how I feel about Susan Duncan!
Many people discovered Susan via her memoirs, Salvation Creek and The House at Salvation Creek. Others began with her novels, The Briny Café and Gone Fishing. Now our “breath-holding” is rewarded with the release of The House on the Hill, the continuation of Susan’s memoir.
Click here to order your copy, or read on for Karen’s review…
It could be argued that Susan had everything she could want or need. Her home, Tarrangaua; former residence of poet Dorothea Mackellar on an island in Sydney’s Pittwater, is accessible only by boat. She is part of a close-knit caring community of people who love living offshore.
In the Prologue to The House on the Hill, Susan writes “Once I believed there could be no other place for me than a cream-coloured house on a high, rough hill overlooking the tawny-green waters of Lovett Bay. It was there, amongst spotted gums so thick and tall they blanked the sky, that I found love and peace, and a sustainable joy at a time of life when I was certain the best was behind me. His name is Bob.”
Prompted by a phone call from a man named Michael who is trying to save his family business, 55-year-old journalist turned author Susan and 63-year-old former civil engineer Bob travel to the Manning Valley. Bob’s speciality was combustion engineering and he is ready for a challenge – design and build a new eco-friendly brick kiln. What they do not expect is that the more they visit, the more they want to stay. Susan and Bob are conscious of the necessity to give back to the earth what we take from it and here they see the opportunity of living a sustainable lifestyle.
There were, however, some things that are not negotiable, such as being on the electricity grid with access to town water and a fully sealed road … ah, the best-laid plans of mice and men! You will thoroughly delight in the trials and tribulations faced by these mature townies who long for the country life. Although cautious by nature, particularly financially, they realise that the rainy day they have saved for may be here – that is if it ever rains again! This is a harsh, albeit beautiful country.
In the previous volumes of her memoir, Susan writes openly and honestly about her relationship with her mother Esther. At its best, theirs is a difficult relationship. Faced with the reality that her mother is over 90, Susan wants answers to questions that have gnawed at her for years. She needs to close some doors and move into this new chapter of her life without the encumbrances of the past.
Knowing what you need to do and doing it are often very different things and although opportunities present themselves, Susan finds it harder to confront Esther than she expects. She realises that finding her peace may have unforeseen consequences for her mother. There is, however, a day when there is no more time and the questions are asked.
Susan Duncan is a mature woman who knows great love, joy and happiness, but also grief and pain. She tells her story with honesty, humour and a strong sense of place. In fact, all three memoirs are set around a house she turns into a home. Her powers of description enable you to see what she sees, feel what she feels and smell what she smells.
Well worth the wait, The House on the Hill is an excellent read which will make you laugh and cry… sometimes at the same time.
The House on the Hill is available now from Dymocks – alongside Susan Duncan’s other wonderful memoirs. Click on a cover below to order your copy.