Published: 23 August 2011
In 1920s Glasgow, Beattie Blaxland discovers she is pregnant to her married lover, Henry, and is thrown out by her family. Henry eventually warms to the idea of fatherhood as his wife can't have children, so he and Beattie run away to start a new life in Tasmania. However, Beattie and Henry struggle to make a living, especially since Henry is intent on drinking and gambling his wages away. A tired Beattie escapes with her daughter, relying on the charity of others to survive, but a job at Wildflower Hill is about to change her life forever.
In London 2009, Beattie's granddaughter, Emma, is a celebrated ballerina but her life comes crashing down when an injury ends her career just as her lover decides he wants someone else. Emma returns to Australia to lick her wounds and discovers she's inherited Wildflower Hill from her grandmother. The house has been abandoned for a long time but there are boxes full of her grandmother's life and Emma soon discovers Beattie had secrets she kept from everyone.
Wildflower Hill is a cross-generational tale much in the vein of Kate Morton and is indeed advertised as such, and while it is a satisfying story, it never really captures the same depth as a Morton novel. Beattie and Emma are likeable characters but as a comparison, the issues Beattie has to deal with in her life, far outweigh those suffered by Emma. Beattie’s problems were often life-threatening but Emma’s sole issue is the loss of her career which is just not on the same level, especially since it was nearing its end anyway. While Beattie is focused on pulling herself and her child out of poverty, Emma is left pondering what she is going to do for the rest of her life.
The story alternates between Beattie in the past and Emma in the future, but the narrative isn’t equally divided with Beattie’s story far more prominent than Emma’s which is probably why the reader relates more to Beattie. Even in the future, the focus is more on Beattie’s secrets so I never really formed any kind of attachment to Emma and her subsequent romance with Patrick is a damp squib. Emma’s life in the ballet has left her very insular so her stay at Wildflower Hill is meant as a time of reflection, as well as a journey of self-discovery. Emma is slowly dragged into community life by Patrick and his sister, but there isn’t much attention given to these chapters and if it had been expanded more, I probably would have felt that old Beattie fighting spirit in her granddaughter.
Beattie’s story is a familiar rags to riches tale where she uses her determination and dressmaking talents to become a prominent businesswoman in a time when women were expected to take a backseat to the men in their lives. On her way to success, Beattie falls in love with a man with Aboriginal ancestry and they soon become lovers, forcing Beattie to become even more of an outcast in her community. When tragedy strikes, Beattie throws herself into her work and becomes wealthy, however this part is glossed over as time moves on and we don’t get to witness her success firsthand. The last we see of Beattie at Wildflower Hill in the 1960s while she is enduring a trial separation from her politician husband but deciding she can’t bear the memories there, she closes the house down and it is not lived in again until Emma arrives.
The story concludes with Emma realising her heart belongs at Wildflower Hill and once she discovers Beattie’s secret, Emma sets off to fulfil one of her grandmother’s wishes, laying the past to rest. It’s a bit predictable but will leave the reader satisfied nonetheless.