Peppercorn House by Nicole Hurley-Moore

Reviewed by Wendy Lipke

Peppercorn House is the title of the latest novel by Nicole Hurley-Moore. Out of curiosity I looked up this name and discovered that there is indeed a “Peppercorn House” at 13 Hawthorn Street Northcote which was built around 1910. This house bridges the gap between Victorian and Edwardian architecture, combining the best of both eras. The name has also been used for various other buildings for different purposes, both here and overseas.

Nicole Hurley-Moore is an Australian author who writes contemporary rural stories that are set in Central Victoria, around the places where she grew up, so she may well have come across this early Australian home. Whether this was the building which inspired her latest story I do not know, but the author uses a building of this name to connect her main characters.

It is obvious that the writer has a strong passion for family, and in the novel, Peppercorn House, this theme runs through the storyline strongly.  I also noted that this is not the first story set in a place called Kangaroo Ridge. There is another novel by the same author titled Summer at Kangaroo Ridge.

Peppercorn House was the home of the richest family in the district in earlier times but now with only one of the original family members alive it sits empty and is believed by many of the locals to be haunted. Winnifred Knightly is 84 years old and has moved to a nursing home in the district. Before she dies, she would love to find closure concerning the disappearance of her older sister many years ago.

In the nursing home she meets Jasmine Clarke one of the staff who is now separated from her husband and is struggling to create a family for her young son. She has moved away from her former husband who is now planning to remarry, but she still wants her son to be able to experience a sense of family with him.

Felix Carrington has been visiting Mrs Knightly regularly for years and keeps an eye on her family home. He has a keen eye for photography and often uses Peppercorn House for his pictures. He is part of the family’s wedding venue business and is very close to all his siblings.

Winnie Knightly takes every opportunity to ensure that these two younger people are thrown together. But not all appreciate her actions.

Through the author’s love of a dual timeline, she provides the reader with a story from Winnie’s early childhood at Peppercorn house which also shines a light on the society of the time. Her modern story becomes the romance of her two young friends and the resolution of the missing girl.

The story includes a variety of personality types which helps balance the sometimes too good to be true personality of Felix. There is a certain amount of predictability to the storyline, certainly around the disappearance of the young girl but there are also parts of the story that appear on the surface to have no relevance to the tale. The reader is continually being told that Jasmine’s car is old and temperamental, but this problem does not lead anywhere. It just reinforces the problems that seem to be besetting this now-single young mum.

This is an interesting story of intergenerational friendship and close family ties. All relationships have their negative aspects and breakups can lead to unforeseen issues. But there is also growth through experience, and it is lovely to see how the hard work Jasmine puts into nurturing her son makes her a stronger person unwilling to be bullied by others.

Peppercorn House

(2024)

by Nicole Hurley-Moore

Allen & Unwin

ISBN:978-1-76147-038-7

$32.99; 336pp

 

 

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