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Review: The Grass Castle by Canberra's Karen Viggers

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Karen-Viggers3The Grass Castle is Canberra author Karen Viggers’ latest novel; a beautiful story of connection to the land, loss, friendship, family and love.  It has been a long time since I have finished a book and felt so content and satisfied. I really felt as though the characters became my friends, and it’s nice to think I can revisit them anytime I want to take the book out of my bookcase.

The story of two remarkable women and their tales of forgiveness and acceptance, from the bestselling author of The Lightkeeper’s Wife.

Abby is a young woman shying away from close contact with others and running from a terrible event in her early teens which has shaped her life. Then she meets Daphne, the daughter of a pastoralist, who grew up in a remote valley of the Brindabella Ranges. Daphne raised her family in the high country with her husband Doug, in a world of horses, cattle and stockmen. But the government forced them off their land, and years later, Daphne is still trying to come to terms with her departure from the mountains and the tragic impact it had on her husband.

Though years and life experience separate Abby and Daphne, they understand each other, and a gentle friendship forms. While Abby’s traumatic past hampers her involvement with journalist Cameron, Daphne tussles with her own family history and the shadow it may have cast over the original inhabitants of the land. Both women must help each other face the truth and released long-buried family secrets before they can be free.

The Grass Castle is a sweeping rural epic that reflects the strength which resides in us all: the courage to learn and grow from the past.

I wanted to wrap Abby up and just take care of her. She feels as though she is the lynchpin for her family as they bumble along their lives while putting immense pressure on herself to attain high grades at university; using her chaotic work hours and distance to the Brindabella Ranges as excuses to keep distance between herself and fellow students.  While she says repeatedly that she isn’t lonely I didn’t believe it. I felt that she filled in every hour of the day to avoid feeling anything at all. I guess that losing your mother at such a young age will do that to you…

Abby’s plan seems to be going along quite well until she meets Cameron, an extremely hot journalist that drives her crazy as he slowly inserts himself into her life. Part of me was excited for Abby and another part knew he was going to throw her life into upheaval and not sure she could manage it.

While working in the Brindabella’s one day Abby and Daphne meet and recognise each other’s love and connection to the land. Daphne’s family owned the land until the Government decided to turn it into National Park – thinking that paying money for the land justified relocating the families to other areas.  Daphne’s loss of her family home, her memories and the ease that she felt on ‘her’ land is keenly felt. As the novel evolves Daphne questions some long held beliefs and recognises the injustices and displacement the Indigenous people were dealt all those years ago.

Karen’s writing sweeps you into the lives of her characters and emotionally connects you to their successes and failures.  Your heart will speed up with anticipation in some areas and break a little in sadder parts of the story.

The kangaroo cull at Lawson in 2008 was in Karen’s mind as The Grass Castle evolved. Her life experience as a Vet, wildlife rehabilitator and nature lover were all utilised in describing Abby’s work and conflicted feelings on the over population of kangaroo’s. As horrible it is for the kangaroo’s to die, it is also terrible to see them starve as their natural grasslands are not available to them.

While The Grass Castle doesn’t give a definitive answer to the complex issue of Canberra’s kangaroo problem, Karen personally believes the answer is to fast-track research into longer lasting and effective immunocontraception for kangaroos. The Grass Castle got me interested enough to look into the limitations of current immunocontraception, something I wouldn’t have previously been interested in.

I loved that The Grass Castle celebrates the beautiful countryside surrounding our city and led me to look into subjects I didn’t know about such as kangaroo contraception, Yankee Hat, Hollywood Mission, Bogong Moths and the culture of the Indigenous people who once roamed this area.

Karen is speaking at a free event at Civic Library on Thursday 5 June – buy your tickets here and keep up with Karen via her website.

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