Why we love it: Beyond the Orchard is a richly woven tale of family secrets and a haunting coming-of-age story as Anna Romer weaves together many different threads that finally come together in a dramatic conclusion.
After receiving a cryptic letter from her aged grandfather promising to ‘explain everything’, Lucy Briar suddenly returns to Melbourne from London. She is finally determined to confront her family’s dark and mysterious past. Only problem is, she doesn’t make it in time. Edwin dies before Lucy has the chance to visit him at his crumbling, once majestic estate, Bitterwood.
Though engaged to a seemingly perfect guy back in London, Lucy must also confront her own immediate past and why she ran away to London years before, without saying goodbye to friends. There’s Morgan, a family friend who she has always harboured deep feelings for but who thinks of her like a kid sister, or so she thinks; there’s her gorgeous best friend Nina who she hasn’t spoke to for years and there’s her troubled, recovering alcoholic father, an author whose twisted takes on classic fairy tales Lucy illustrates. They all suspect that Lucy’s life in London and her engagement to her wonderful fiancé isn’t quite what it seems. And as Lucy discovers the secrets behind her family’s past, she begins to suspect the same.
As she makes her return to Bitterwood, through old letters and photographs and glimpses into Edwin’s rooms and the old icehouse, Lucy slowly pieces together an intriguing mystery that stretches back to her grandfather’s early life and his marriage to a beautiful woman who was originally engaged to his brother. Discovering the many inexplicable elements of her family’s past – her grandfather’s brother Ronald who was killed in the war, a mysterious Scottish girl who was the only survivor of a shipwreck, a pair of Aboriginal children and the death of Lucy’s own mother in unusual circumstances – Lucy struggles to make sense of it all, but with her stubborn determination, she will attempt to unearth the truth.
Beyond the Orchard is a vivid and richly imagined story, full of intrigue and with Romer’s eye for detail and evocative descriptions, it’s a book that easily transports us from 1990s Melbourne back to the 1930s. Romer creates a haunting and eerie backdrop to Lucy’s story and engages us fully in Lucy’s quest for truth and clarity so that we’re fully invested in her journey every step of the way. It’s a universal story of confronting family demons, finding love and making peace with the past.
Anna Romer is the author of Thornwood House and Lyrebird Hill. She spent her youth travelling the globe, working as a graphic artist while she soaked up local histories and folklore from the Australian outback, Asia, Europe, and America. On returning home to Australia, she began creating stories of her own and was quickly hooked. A visit to her sister in north Queensland inspired her first novel, Thornwood House, a story that reflects her fascination with old diaries and letters, dark family secrets, rambling old houses, the persistence of the past, and our unique Australian landscape.