Heartsease by Kate Kruimink

Reviewed by Patricia Simms-Reeve

It is impossible to resist the power of a book that is deeply perceptive in its unwaveringly honest scrutiny of family relations.

The ties between two sisters, dealing with the death of a mother who was emotionally difficult and remote, is the focus of this exceptional novel. They come together at a strictly-run wellness retreat in rural Tasmania. Lot (Charlotte) is a doctor. Reference to her husband, Duncan, and children is peripheral. Nelly, her much younger sister, has a good friend, Josh. He supports her and keeps a watchful eye on her as she drinks and takes drugs to dull her unhappiness.

The sisters have endured almost a day of the severe routine at the retreat when they escape to the village pub.

The book moves from this scene to the past, where the women exchange memories of both the mother they have lost and her mother, a coldly cruel figure who is chilling in her remoteness.

Feelings are exposed and there is an added dimension to the characters of both Lot and Josh with the accident which occurs involving Nelly.

 Emotions become virtually overwhelming as their predicament combines with the cold and rain. The monochrome is lifted by flowers, the rose perfumed but prickly; the viola or heartsease, a cheerful humble little plant, the symptom of comfort.

Kate Kruimink is an accomplished author whose first novel won the Vogel Literary Award. Her talent is obvious in the creation of the characters of Lot, Nelly and Josh. However, it is the humour, often bleak, that is truly outstanding.

Nelly thinks at one stage ‘A creature of dread was thrashing around in my belly like an untended garden hose’.

 Lot looks out at the town like a child bestowing personality on a stuffed toy, casting life and history out of herself….

It’s unforgettable imagery.

Original plots are elusive so authors are inclined to create work that is not narrative-driven in order to retain an interested readership. Heartsease does this without reservation. It was impossible to put down and admiration of the beauty of the writing lingers long after the last paragraph.



by Kate Kruimink

Pan Macmillan

ISBN 978 176126 683 6

$34.99; 290pp

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