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Sunday, April 11, 2021

Review: The Ripping Tree

The Ripping Tree
Author: Nikki Gemmell

Publisher: 7th April 2021 by HarperCollins Australia

Pages: 304 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: historical fiction

My Rating: 4 crowns


An illustrious family. A beautiful home. A shipwrecked young woman left on its doorstep. Don’t think they’re going to save her ....

Early 1800s. Thomasina Trelora is on her way to the colonies. Her fate: to be married to a clergyman she's never met. As the Australian coastline comes into view a storm wrecks the ship and leaves her lying on the rocks, near death. She's saved by an Aboriginal man who carries her to the door of a grand European house, Willowbrae.

Tom is now free to be whoever she wants to be and a whole new life opens up to her. But as she's drawn deeper into the intriguing life of this grand estate, she discovers that things aren't quite as they seem. She stumbles across a horrifying secret at the heart of this world of colonial decorum - and realises she may have exchanged one kind of prison for another.

The Ripping Tree is an intense, sharp shiver of a novel, which brings to mind such diverse influences as The Turn of the Screw, Rebecca and the film Get Out as much as it evokes The Secret River. A powerful and gripping tale of survival written in Nikki Gemmell's signature lyrical and evocative prose, it examines the darkness at the heart of early colonisation. Unsettling, audacious, thrilling and unputdownable.

My Thoughts

‘What’s going on here ... it feels like there are layers and layers of things going on here and I want to peel away at Willowbrae’s secrets like the bark on the Ripping Tree until a bare core of truth and honesty is exposed, and nothing else is left.’

This book came as a big surprise - not the book I initially thought it would be. The writing style is unique and clever but the story .... hmmm ... at first I was not convinced, however, by the end I was a convert. With short, sharp chapters, this is an engaging and confronting tale of a strong willed young girl caught up in a horrifying family secret from Australia’s disturbing colonial past. 

Nikki’s historical novel featuring the early settlement of Australia, certainly delves into a dark time in our history. There is so much to ‘The Ripping Tree’, with nothing as what it would seem and fueled by writing that is both unique and strangely captivating. 

"Pa once taught me an old Celtic phrase - ‘the thin places’ -to describe those little pockets of the natural world that feel closer to the mysterious energy that drives all the earth. He said the thin places arrest you with their strange power, and the Ripping Tree glade, despite all the trauma it’s seen, feels like one of them. I want to be stilled by it, healed, and learn more about it.’

The main theme pertains to the absolute horrific disregard and treatment of Australia’s Indigenous culture in the early 1800s. There are recounts and scenes that readers must be warned are both distressing and disturbing. However, as a student of history myself, I know these stories to be an accurate portrayal from my own previous reading. Credit to Nikki for presenting these details and not shying away from them.

The other strong emphasis relates to the treatment of women during this time period. With the main character being strong and determined, refusing to conform to societal expectations, she was quick to be labelled as difficult and at times hysterical with proposals to institutionalise her. 

‘ .. once again -just as before ... men have imagined a life for me that completely disregards the life I’ve imagined for myself .’

So although this book takes a little to get into and has strong confronting themes, the intense yet cleverly crafted writing of Nikki’s is sure to both unsettle yet entice her readers to learn the story behind, ‘The Ripping Tree’

‘Let’s just say my little tale is a history of a great colonial house that was burdened by a situation that was never resolved, and I fear all over this land will never be resolved. It is our great wound that needs suturing and it hasn’t been yet and I fear, perhaps, it never will be, for we’re not comfortable, still, with acknowledging it ... We’re not comfortable with exposing stories like this to the air and the sun and salt. And I cannot give you the native side of this tragedy, my loves, because I don’t begin to know it, or them; I can’t speak for them. But I respect them and acknowledge them and love them for the riches they bring to all of us, and I know we are remiss.’    

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.


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