Reviewed by Wendy Lipke
It has been said that Di Morrissey is one of the most successful Australian authors. She now has over 25 best-selling novels and five children’s books to her credit. Each spring, she produces a novel which hits the stores in time for Christmas. Over the past ten years her books have averaged 150,000 sales per year equating to more than 2.5 million Australian readers. Her interest in different cultures, their landscape, political and cultural issues forms the inspiration for her novels. Her latest work, The Last Paradise, is no exception.
For this latest work, although the main characters are Australian and the initial setting is Sydney, a large part of the storyline is based in Bali. When disaster strikes and a marriage collapses, a new opportunity presents itself in this new environment which allows Morrissey to indulge in what she does best, write about the beautiful natural landscape and at the same time promote her own environmentalist and activist beliefs.
In this latest novel, as a story within a story, the author introduces an American woman with similar environmental beliefs as her own, who had a great influence in the history of Bali. This could nearly have been the basis of a novel of its own. However, it is included to serve a purpose which it does beautifully. This history, which is gradually unfurled throughout the storyline, is pivotal in the development of the main character, Grace, as she emerges from her chrysalis, a marriage where the influence over her own life had been systematically sucked from her, to the emerging butterfly she becomes by the end of the novel. When the project she had been working on in Bali came to fruition, she received the following note of appreciation.
“You have Grace-d our Kamasan with your dedication, hard work and beautiful smile. You are part of our success. Please always think of this as your second home. A small memento.
Johnny and Harold P” (388).
Di Morrissey’s earlier novel, The Golden Land, in 2012, set in Burma (Myanmar) resulted in her establishing The Golden Land Education Foundation which raises funds for a school she has established outside Mandalay. Her latest novel also includes a similar idea in its storyline.
This author is a master at allowing the reader to feel the joy, anguish, fear and anger of her key characters. One cannot but loathe the way Lawrence tries to manipulate his former wife and leave her wondering what he will do next. Morrissey also drops snippets of information, as they are revealed to Grace, reinforcing this dislike, but never really saying whether Lawrence was responsible for things that have happened.
To try to support herself, Grace takes on a project which satisfies a long-held passion of hers about producing film and television advertising for an eco-friendly resort being built in Bali. Through this situation Di Morrissey allows the reader to learn more about this aspect of business. Though good for Grace, this project poses a dilemma for her as she has a young child and has to negotiate the legal ramifications of taking a child out of the country in the situation she now finds herself. Who would want to have to go through all that Grace has to negotiate?
Morrissey can make the most harrowing of situations an interesting learning situation.
Though such a prolific and well-loved writer of the popular fiction genre and having launched her own newspaper, The Manning Community News in 2015, Di Morrissey had never won an award for her work. However, in the 2019 Queen‘s Birthday Honours list she was made an AM in recognition of her ‘significant service to literature as a novelist, and to conservation and the environment’.
With or without any awards, Di Morrissey’s novels will continue to be bought and read by her many devotees because her storylines are so interesting, taking readers to many new places and addressing many issues which are part of the human condition.
I would recommend this hard-covered book, The Last Paradise, with its Balinese printed paper jacket and brightly patterned inside covers to all who enjoy an interesting and believable story. I would not hesitate to recommend other books published under this author’s name.
By Di Morrissey
$34.99; 418 pp