Reviewed by Wendy Lipke
The Country Wedding is the latest book for Australian romance writer Barbara Hannay. This novelist has written more than forty novels which have been translated into twenty-six languages worldwide.
The Country Wedding is actually two love stories and is set in the tropical Atherton Tableland. It is a story about love and betrayal, doing the right thing, racism, psychological abuse and secrets.
The first romance is between Joe and Hattie who spent much of their childhood together on the Tableland although Hattie had once lived in the bustling, exciting metropolis of Shanghai in 1935.
The book swings between 2015 and pre-war Asia but it is back on the Tableland in 2015 that their lives become entwined with Mitch and Flora’s, the protagonists in the second romance, when Hattie flies from Brisbane to talk to Joe after human bones had been uncovered.
She’d known other old friends who could pick up again as if no time had elapsed, but she never dreamed it could happen to her and Joe. Surely this was wrong? This man had left her desperately angry and hurt, and she was sure at some deeply subconscious level she’d never really forgiven him (171).
Flora had also moved from Melbourne to the Tableland to get away from her controlling boyfriend who had undermined her faith in herself and her skill as a violinist. “You’re a pathetic loser, Drumbeat. You might run away, but you’ve no staying power and you know you’re never going to make it. You should give up now, you hopeless bitch” (19).
At the time she arrives Mitch, the local policeman, is getting married in the same church where Joe had broken Hattie’s heart when he had married another. Flora had always had a crush on Mitch since her family had taken him in during his teenage years. Flora is asked to play in the quartet for the wedding service and finds this very confronting.
Most of Hannay’s books are set in rural and outback Australia. She has intimate knowledge of the country as she lives in far north Queensland with her husband and a collection of farm animals. A former English teacher and city girl she has always had a love of the country.
This book shows an intimate knowledge of small country towns and the various people who compose them from the timid elderly lady who lives next to where Flora is staying and who regularly has to be rescued when she locks herself out of her house to the lively priest, who Flora thought “looked more like an outback ringer, or even a stray member of a rock band than a parish priest” (283), to the country music teacher, who inspired Flora years ago to chase her dream and who organises the yearly Christmas concert. Life in a country town is beautifully portrayed in this book.
Burralea was very quiet now. The only sound in the village were the lazy, late afternoon birdcalls. Somewhere down the street a dog was barking. A trio of school boys on bicycles whizzed past (189).
I particularly liked the description of the Teahouse at Lake Barrine where Joe took Hattie. They had driven through “lush green hills dotted with dairy cows” (171) before parking “where mauve and pink bougainvillea sprawled over rock walls”. The Teahouse, of a nostalgic, 1920s design, was “fringed by palm trees and tree ferns and lush, shaded tropical gardens” and was “set against the backdrop of a sunlit, sparkling blue lake and ringed by dense green rainforest” (172).
This description brought back vivid memories of my visit to this part of Australia many years ago. It is very obvious from her writing that Barbara Hannay has a deep love of the area in which she lives. Her book is a delight and should be keenly sought.
By Barbara Hannay