Reviewed by Wendy Lipke
According to the author of this book, the writer and reader go on a journey together where the writer plants the clues, and the reader finds them. Maybe they’ll guess the answer then a later clue will leave them doubting that guess, often several times over. It’s the twists that matter. I certainly enjoyed my journey with Julie Brooks as I read her latest novel The Keepsake.
Julie Brooks was born in Brisbane, Australia, but has lived most of her life in Melbourne. She was an English and Drama secondary school teacher before working as an editor of children’s magazines. She has been a full-time author since 1999 and has produced several young adult novels as well as children’s fiction and non-fiction. The Secrets of Bridgewater Bay and The Keepsake are her novels written as Julie Brooks. Previous publications were under the name Carol Jones.
Every novel is a puzzle. Somewhere near the beginning, the writer poses a central story question that the reader will want answered. In this novel the conundrum is: What would induce a single woman in possession of a good fortune to leave the luxury of Westcott Hall and travel to the other side of the world? One possible answer is that it was either adventure that called her – a risky but not unknown business for a woman in the 1830s – or she was running from danger (69).
This is a dual-time novel, and it is up to the modern protagonist, Eliza Ambrose, to try to solve the puzzle concerning her notorious, not quite ancestor, Prudence Merryfield (102), whose disappearance heralded the long slow decline in the prestige of the Ambrose family.
Eliza is a hunter gatherer of bits and bobs. She has taken over her mother’s estate sales business and become obsessed in finding out what happened concerning her family history especially the part Prudence may have played in it. This is helped by the gift of a pocket book from her aunt which is supposed to have been owned by Prudence. The gift coincided with the beginnings of the makeover of Westcott Hall, which had fallen out of her family’s possession into disrepair. Eliza’s interaction with the Australian contractor working on the building becomes unsettling as their interest in the old building and its history align.
I was quite fascinated by the whole idea of the pocket book which the author describes so vividly. It ‘felt warm in her hands, leather and paper – animal and vegetable’ (6). ‘She flipped up the leather flap…and opened the book to the inside cover, where… she located a concertinaed pocket. For the pocket book wasn’t only designed to fit inside a lady’s pocket, it was itself a pocket. A place to store keepsakes. A receptacle for love letters, tickets, sentimental drawings, a lock of hair, a favourite poem. A secret.’ (9) This was the item which inspired the title of the book and became the most treasured possession in both storylines. It was ‘a custodian of memories, a keeper of secrets’ (6).
The vividness of the writing is also seen in reference to a particular name where the author says, ‘The name rippled from her tongue like a pebble tossed into a stream’ (5) and she describes the cover of the pocketbook with the words, ‘Creeping across the surface like a tidemark in the sand was the evidence of past water damage’ (67).
Apart from the two main storylines, past and present, there were two side stories – one of a young girl destined for the workhouse if something could not be found for her at Westcott Hall and the other, a young Samoan girl with an independent spirit just like Prudence. Their stories play an important role in Prudence’s life and at the same time highlights a different culture and position in society at that time. Both have a lasting impact on Prudence’s life and her search for some kind of fulfillment.
For me this story has it all. There are two love stories which don’t always run smoothly. There is history and a glimpse into a world long gone. There is emotion – frustration, jealousy, dissatisfaction all of which drive people to extreme behaviours. And there is abiding love, though often misinterpreted.
Like her previous book, I thoroughly enjoyed going on yet another journey with the author Julie Brooks and enjoyed the way she writes which painted such beautiful images that enriched the story. I find her characters to be totally believable and enjoy how she brings to the foreground aspects of history and society which may be different or new to the reader. Diligent research is evident in her books.
This was an interesting beautifully written novel which should be enjoyed by most readers.
by Julie Brooks