Debra Oswald is an award-winning Australian writer. The head writer and creator of the top-rating Aussie TV show, Offspring, Debra has written numerous plays and children’s novels. Her first adult novel, Useful, in 2015, which was an entertaining story about the meaning of life, added to her impressive legacy – and The Whole Bright Year doesn’t disappoint, in fact it shines with flawless storytelling, wit and warmth.
In The Whole Bright Year (written originally as a stage play, called The Peach Season), Oswald tackles the matter of offspring again, except this time it’s in the sense of a child becoming a mutinous teenager threatening to go astray. It’s a story about wanting to hold on, but knowing you have to let go and of first love that strikes like lightning.
Set in the summer of 1976, it’s picking season on an Australian orchard where the trees are weighed down by plump, ripe fruit, warmed by the sun. It’s hot and dusty and the living is easy. Here, we meet Celia who is originally from the city. When her her husband was killed shockingly and suddenly, Celia fled the chaotic urban lifestyle with her newborn child Zoe, looking for peace and safety in the country. Celia and Zoe, who is now sixteen, run the orchard with help of local pickers and there’s an air of contentment with their simple, slow life.
Of course, you can’t avoid outside influences forever. When Sheena and her eighteen-year-old brother Kieran come to the town, they find work at the orchard. They are desperate, both for money and to escape their hard past. Bit by bit, details of their disturbing past emerge, surprising Zoe and worrying Celia as her daughter is becoming ever more attached to bad boy Kieran who is like the fox in the henhouse.
At first, Zoe can only watch as the attraction between her daughter and Kieran grows stronger, but when things turn bleak, Celia must make the decision – how far will she go to protect her daughter?
It’s a curious conundrum as Celia wrestles with the knowledge that the path Zoe has taken leads to devastation, yet also understands that overbearing parenting will only contribute to the rift between her and her daughter. Oswald navigates the dilemmas of parenthood with skill and insight, showing she knows only too well how hard it is to achieve that delicate balancing act between allowing your children to grow up and make their own mistakes, while keeping them safe.
The rural setting of The Whole Bright Year adds to the novel’s intensity with the scorching heat and the sweaty hard work of fruit picking fuelling emotions. The characters are well-rounded – like so many of Oswald’s other creations, they all have distinct personalities that come gloriously alive on the page. Polish worker, the ever sharp and perceptive Roza, is a highlight of the novel. (We all wish for a Roza in our life).
The Whole Bright Year is a wonderful read – emotional, atmospheric, full of heart versus head moments. Not just for parents, it’s for anyone who knows too well the devastating impact that family love, either too much or too little, can have.
About the Author
Debra Oswald is a two-time winner of the NSW Premier’s Literary Award and the creator/head writer of the first five seasons of the TV series Offspring.
Her stage plays have been performed around the world and are published by Currency Press. Gary’s House, Sweet Road and The Peach Season were all shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary Award. Debra has also written four plays for young audiences – Dags, Skate, Stories in the Dark and House on Fire.
Her television credits include Police Rescue, Palace of Dreams, The Secret Life of Us, Sweet and Sour and Bananas in Pyjamas. Debra has written three Aussie Bite books for kids and six children’s novels, including The Redback Leftovers and Getting Air. Her first adult novel, Useful, was published in 2015.