Helen Fitzgerald is one of those authors who are on my “MUST READ” list and so I was delighted to be able to purchase a special pre-publication edition of this at the Orenda Roadshow in Glasgow earlier this year. And I’m delighted to be sharing my thoughts on this outstanding read!
Before I share my thoughts, here’s what the official blurb says:
Fran hates Ash Mountain, and she thought she’d escaped. But her father is ill, and needs care. Her relationship is over, and she hates her dead-end job in the city, anyway.
She returns to her hometown to nurse her dying father, her distant teenage daughter in tow for the weekends. There, in the sleepy town of Ash Mountain, childhood memories prick at her fragile self-esteem, she falls in love for the first time, and her demanding dad tests her patience, all in the unbearable heat of an Australian summer.
As old friendships and rivalries are renewed, and new ones forged, Fran’s tumultuous home life is the least of her worries, when old crimes rear their heads and a devastating bushfire ravages the town and all of its inhabitants…
Simultaneously a warm, darkly funny portrait of small-town life – and a woman and a land in crisis – and a shocking and truly distressing account of a catastrophic event that changes things forever, Ash Mountain is a heart-breaking slice of domestic noir, and a disturbing disaster thriller that you will never forget…
Ash Mountain tells the story of Fran in the days leading up to the bushfire, Helen Fitzgerald wrote this prior to the events in Australia earlier this year which, along with the story behind the cover of the book, make it all the more poignant. It’s a story of relationships, hopes and regret. It is also the story of a small town with a dark past and some attitudes which clearly belong in the past. You can almost feel Fran’s conflict as she returns home to Ash Mountain to care for her father who is dying. On one hand it is an escape from an unhappy life for her but on the other it is a return to some difficult memories of a life gone by.
Switching between the past and present, Fran’s memories are laid bare for the reader to devour. We learn more about this woman and what makes her tick. Fran was one of those characters who I immediately connected with, I could almost imagine her as a friend, someone who thought like me, had the same fears, sometimes irrational and other times not so irrational. There were a couple of points through the book where my emotions were in meltdown as Fran is out looking for her daughter Vonny. ! In Fran she has created a character so convincing and so real that I had a very strong image of her in my head; Fran’s story and feelings resonated with me throughout. Each of her characters are as strong from the creepy priest, Father Frank; to her ex-husband Vincent and The Captain, a face from Fran’s past. But for me it was Fran who stepped out the pages and into my head.
Helen Fitzgerald is one of those writers who manage to make every word, sentence, paragraph and page jump out at you. She commands the reader’s attention with her well drawn characters and relatable plots. A stark and very dark sense of humour is liberally sprinkled through the pages and I actually find myself snorting when I’m reading Helen’s books. Which is kind of weird as they are always based on serious topics, the kind of which really shouldn’t make you laugh but Helen has got this magical talent for capturing human nature, warts and all, and she does it perfectly. Ash Mountain is poignant, it’s sad, it’s snortingly funny in parts. It’s a story that will worm its way under your skin and stay there for a long time after you turn the last page. Once again Helen Fitzgerald kicks it out the park, don’t miss it.
Ash Mountain is available to purchase via