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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

La Rochelle's Road by Tanya Moir

Title: La Rochelle's Road
Author: Tanya Moir
Publisher: Black Swan/Random House NZ,2011
ISBN 9781869793388
Genre: Historical Fiction

Synopsis: In 1866, Daniel Peterson and his family give up their comfortable life in London for a farm on Banks Peninsula, New Zealand. Daniel has a vision of making his fortune growing grass seed but the land he foolishly buys unseen is not the gentle flat fields he imagines but steep , rugged hillside covered with scrub and tree stumps with a run down old cottage for their new home.

Penniless, the Peterson's find themselves at the mercy of the land, the weather and their few neighbours - a motley, suspicious assortment of old whalers, escaped convicts, wary french settlers and true-blue Tory squatters. While Daniel and his wife, Laetitia, struggle to cope with the hostile environment, their children with youthful resilience find it easier. Fifteen-year-old Robbie finds freedom and friendship with a Maori family living in the bay below and eighteen-year-old Hester consoles herself with writing long letters to her friend in England. When she discovers the journal of Etienne La Rochelle, the man who once owned the land, it leads her on a journey into a world of beauty, darkness and illicit love - a path which eventually she may follow herself.

My thoughts - It doesn't happen very often but it's always a pleasure to read a book set in my own country and if at first the cover lead me to assume this would be more of an historical romance I was mistaken. La Rochelle's Road is excellent historical fiction which captures the essence of the Canterbury landscape, the vagaries of the weather and the difficulties the early settlers faced . The themes are quite dark - loss, betrayal and disillusionment but touches of humour and hope prevent it from becoming depressing.

I liked that the story focused on an ordinary family. It made me realise how often it must have been that a man had a dream and his family had no choice but to follow him and how hard it must have been for the women. Of all the characters it was Letitia I most connected with and it was painful to read of her daily drudgery and my heart ached for her as the small daily disasters slowly broke her spirit.

"A powerful scent of English violets is rising from Letitia's bedroom floor. She tries to coax the precious liquid back into its broken bottle. But it is no use. The last of her London luxuries is gone, dripping through the cracks in the boards, swallowed up by the dirt below."

An impressive debut novel with my only complaint being I wish it had been longer but I'll certainly be looking for more from Tanya Moir in the future.

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