The Family Tree, by Ilsa Evans

Dear Dad, I’m excited. I’m very excited. Which has made me realise that I haven’t been really excited about anything for a long time. It feels almost clumsy! What frustrates me, though, is that if I had started writing this a year ago, I could have just come to you for the information, but I’ve left it too late. Typical. Or maybe it would never have occurred to me then? Anyway, I still haven’t decided how to write it – as a pseudo-memoir? A tragic romance? A mystery?

An old saying suggests that everybody has a book in them, but for Kate Painter the desire to write a book has been a lifelong one. She’s always intended to write a book, but life has got in the way. She’s a wife, mother, grandmother and freelance editor – and she’s so busy doing things for everyone else that she never gets the time to do them for herself. Now, though, as she grieves the death of her father, an opportunity arises. Her cousin Angie decides to let her spare bedroom – and suddenly Kate sees a chance to get some space for herself, so that she can give herself the time to write that book. Moving in with Angie is hard – she is leaving behind her husband, three children and grand daughter – but writing the book proves even harder. What will she write about – and will it be good enough anyway?

The Family Tree is a story about family and about self. In the process of researching her family background as the basis of her proposed book, Kate has to confront much about the past that she finds unpalatable. At the same time, she has to also confront the events of the previous year, and the state of her relationship with her husband and children. She may not write a bestselling novel, but as she does write she finds a story emerging which will help her and her family.

This is a touching and absorbing read, with Kate a likeable main character, whose growth the reader can enjoy watching, as the mysteries of her past are unlocked.

The Family Tree, by Ilsa Evans
Pan Macmillan, 2009

Each Way Bet, by Ilsa Evans

‘And d’you know, I’ve been wandering around today thinking how lucky you are? House in the suburbs, lots of company, full life – I mean, you’re really important to people. See, you might think what I do sounds pretty romantic but, you know, no-one really needs me. Not like they need you.’
‘But that’s just it,’ Jill wailed miserably. ‘That’s exactly it! I don’t want to be needed anymore. Do you have any idea what it’s like to be needed like that for nearly twenty years? I’ve had enough! I just want to be me – no-one’s wife, or mother, or anything. Just. Me.’

When Emily Broadhurst returns home to yet another night alone in her singles pad, she is surprised to receive a phone call from her older sister, Jill. Jill is the mother of four, and the hostess of tomorrow’s family Melbourne Cup lunch. But Jill doesn’t want the responsibility of lunch – or of anything else. She’s exhausted and wants out. It is Emily’s idea that they trade places – Jill to spend the night in Emily’s flat, and Emily to organise and run the annual family lunch. Surely it can’t be that hard?

Soon, though, Jill finds there are complications she didn’t expect from sleeping in Emily’s bed, and Emily wonders how one is supposed to clean house, serve lunch, and keep three teenagers and a foul-mouthed toddler under control.

Each Way Bet is a warm, funny novel about family dynamics, and the grass-is-greener syndrome. As with Evans’ other books, she manages to focus on the events of just a few days, so that the reader shares a sense of immediacy in the unfolding events. No event, right down to wiping a bench or washing a dish, is considered too mundane to include – and with Evans’ wit, none of these small events are mundane. Evans captures the dynamics of a family gathering, complete with dramas of an unhappy wife, a possible pregnancy, pesky in-laws, and more with humour, keeping you laughing till the end, while still empathising with the characters and their emotions.

Lots of fun.

Each Way bet, by Ilsa Evans
Macmillan, 2006

Drip Dry, by Ilsa Evans

Being a single mother with three children is bound to make Camilla a trifle busy – but when her family has a week full of births, birthdays, engagements and weddings, things seem to be spinning out of control.

First she has to navigate a birthday party for her six year old daughter, CJ where BOTH her ex-husbands are in attendance and where the guests manage to watch a video of Camilla in the shower. Then there’s a disappearing bathroom floor and the body her son, Ben, thinks he’s discovered under the house next door – the house which, coincidentally (or not) his father has just moved into. By week’s end Camilla won’t have the energy to celebrate her fortieth birthday. That’s if anyone remembers it in the whir of her mother’s wedding.

Drip Dry is a fast-moving, funny look at a week in this slightly mad, exceedingly normal mother’s life. A sequel to Ilsa Evan’s previous book, Spin Cycle, this one easily stands alone, although it will tempt readers to go back and read the first.

Not easy to put down.

Drip Dry, by Ilsa Evans
Pan Macmillan, 2004