He tightened his grasp on his children and the elusive words came.
‘We’re still a family,’ he said, and we all love each other. Mum wouldn’t want us to be sad all the time, would she? Now what we’ll do is finish breakfast and go and buy a tree. We’ll plant it in the garden. It’ll be Mum’s tree and whenever we need to, we can go there and think of her. What do you say to that?’
When their mother dies suddenly, Zav and Sealie are left bereft. Their father proposes that together they plant a tree in Paulina’s memory, a place to remember and feel close to her. But as the tree grows, Hal’s grief does too. In the grip of depression he hears voices telling him what he must do. When Zav leaves home to go to the Vietnam Wat and Sealie to begin her nursing training, Hal is left with his grief, and the voices – telling him to do something unspeakably terrible. Years later, Sealie struggles to care for her brother, who has returned from war with is own depression to battle, and is horrified at the news that her mentally ill father is being released into her care.There seems little hope for any of them to find peace.
The Memory Tree is a brilliant offering from the creator of the bestselling Book of Lost Threads. The story is not a happy one, but it is deftly handled as it explores the impact of mental illness on families, and themes of obligation, loss and hope. The characters are wonderfully complex – as well as the three main characters already mentioned, a special delight is the character of Godown, a pastor who is an ex-US Army soldier, who befriends Hal and becomes part of the family. He is a character who could easily have been a caricature, but instead grows and develops most endearingly.
A fabulous read which is at once gentle and gripping.
The Memory Tree, by Tess Evans
Allen & Unwin, 2012
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