Title: The Painted Sky
Author: Alice Campion
Publisher: 2nd March 2015 by Random House Australia Pty Ltd, Bantam Australia
Pages: 350 pages
How I Read It: ARC ebook
Genre: romance, women’s fiction, chick lit, Australia
My Rating: four cups
Alice Campion is the pseudonym for five members of a Sydney book club who challenged themselves to write a '21st Century Thorn Birds'. The result is a captivating rural novel, brimming with romance, mystery and suspense. Nina never knew what happened to her father, the celebrated artist Jim Larkin. One minute he was her devoted dad, the next he'd disappeared without trace. Seventeen years later, she's still haunted by the mystery. Until a call from outback Wandalla changes everything. At first, Nina's inheritance of a waterless property and a farmhouse stuffed with junk seems more like a burden than a gift. But this was her father's childhood home - and possibly her last chance to discover the truth. So what is the local solicitor, Harrison Grey, not telling her as he hands over the keys? Why does the area's wealthiest resident, Hilary Flint, seem to hate her so much? What is the significance of the gold locket with cryptic engravings that Nina always wears? And why, on top of everything, is she inexplicably drawn to her soon-to-be-married neighbour, Heath Blackett?
As soon as I read this book’s tag line in connection with ‘Thorn Birds”, I was intrigued! A 21st Century Thorn Birds remake! Now whilst I might not be fully convinced on that score, I have to admit to being captured from the very first paragraph:
“Yearning can be like white noise in a life. It can be part of the background hum of thought and feeling in a way that’s barely detectable. Sometimes on the verge of waking we hear it whispering, telling us that something is missing, but then we let the music of the day drown it out”.
It really is quite incredulous when you stop to think that five individuals who belonged to the same book club wrote this tale. This story is good, very good and when you consider the amount of collaboration that must have been undertaken, it truly is quite incredible. If you go looking for the change in ‘voice’, ‘tone’, or ‘style’ you will be sadly disappointed – it is seamless. These five women have come together to produce a story that has a little bit of everything – romance, mystery, suspense – that undulates throughout to a solid conclusion.
The central character, Nina, is portrayed realistically. It is all about her journey and struggles as she attempts to discover the truth about her missing father.
“The thread that still attached her to anything at all was this quest to find her father, and she was going to give it every atom of effort she had”
However, what she also finds is a whole lot more. Nina bravely confronts the Australian bush, leaving behind the city life in her quest and, through circumstances and the people she meets, starts to unravel the mysterious disappearance and start to uncover the truth about herself and where she belongs. You see Nina evolve from an indecisive wanderer to a grounded, strong individual with real purpose.
I also very much enjoyed the setting – outback, rural Australia (maybe the only real tie to ‘Thorn Birds’). The vivid descriptions of the land and the people that lived there were realistic and inviting. There were some great characters that lent real depth to the story and it’s portrayal of country life. My only small criticism is the ‘baddie’ – the woman who wanted to steal all the fame and fortune was just ridiculously bad. Her actions and a certain ‘showdown’ had me cringing and thinking it was slightly far fetched.
Overall however, this is a great read; pure Aussie escapism with multiple characters and intrigues to engage you throughout.
“The rich soil of The Springs that she imagined. But then, as he smiled, his eyes became Heath’s – silvery grey against that painted sky”.
This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.