Hope’s Road by Margareta Osborn

Published March 1, 2013 by Random House Australia

5/5 stars

Hope’s Road is home to three distinct properties: Old Joe McCauley lives up on the hill, Tammy McCauley owns and runs Montmorency Downs just below the hill and than there is Travis Hunter’s place on the other side of the road. In many ways this novel is about these three properties, their owners and the differences and similarities between the generations. It’s a feel good novel about the human spirit, life’s high and lows and what it means to be loved and love in return, be that by family, friends or simply the land.

At its very essence, Hope’s Road is a novel full of country life – the good, the bad, the ugly and the indifferent every day affairs. It’s true to life and doesn’t sugar coat, nor does it overlook, the more country aspects like many rural narratives tend to do. All of which makes for a refreshing read evoking honest everyday responses from its readers – I for one, couldn’t help but scrunch up my nose at the bloat scene with the cows or stop my gut from churning at the prospect of putting my entire arm up a cows bum. I laughed with Tammy’s friends (especially the free spirited Lucy) and sympathised with Tammy during her relationship break down. I read more desperately during the flood scene and found myself shaking with the revelations that a helpless main character was missing (I’m treading carefully here to ensure I don’t spoil the story for you). I found myself almost crying whilst reading the epilogue before my brain even processed what was happening. Simply put, Hope’s Road is a book about life in the country and all that it entails.

Osborn has taken great care to create strong and independent characters that really come to life as the story progresses.  At the start of the narrative, I personally couldn’t stand the character of Joe McCauley. The almost ninety-year-old cranky man irritated me to no end, and while I was sympathetic to his back story – he lost the woman of his dreams and his family property to his older brother all in one go – I still didn’t like the old man. And yet somehow, cranky old Joe crept silently under my radar and made me not only like him, but love him for all his differences and faults. Having isolated himself from the community years earlier, Joe is used to being alone. In many ways he craves it. That is until a freak accident occurs and Joe finds himself in hospital and facing a long rehabilitation time to heal his broken hip. It’s here that Joe is forced to accept help from the outside in the form of his neighbour, Travis and his young son Billy, and his grand-niece, Tammy McCauley, who Joe has spoken to once (and not kindly) in her entire life. It’s through these encounters that Joe really comes to life.

Tammy McCauley is a likeable character who refuses to give up and in many ways personifies the country’s underdog figure that as Australians we love to go to bat for. Upon discovering her husbands’ unfaithfulness, Tammy is prepared to kick him straight out and would have, had he not decided to leave her first. Despite nursing this personal hurt and shame, she knows the bush telegraph has likely spread the word before Shon (her Husband) has even left the property and is prepared to face the gossip head on. What she’s not ready for however is Shon’s continued onslaughts, and his biggest betrayal yet; Shon wants half the farm and he’s prepared to force Tammy to sell if need be.

In many ways, Travis Hunter is not you average male protagonist love interest. He is a scruffy, but good looking, man who prefers the company of the bush and in many regards he is like Old Joe McCauley; both men are at one with the land, for at least outside amongst the bush they know what to expect and how to behave. Society and past relationships have not been kind to Travis, leaving him unable to connect properly with his young son, Billy, who is desperate for a bit a love and understanding. Together the pair go through a remarkable journey in the book as they learn to reconnect with themselves, the land around them and together they unknowingly repair a generation old grunge between Old Joe and his brother’s granddaughter.

What I particularly loved about this book was just how much each character grew and developed across the narrative. Like the setting around them, the characters were constantly evolving and developing to better face the new challenges confronting them. They relied heavily on each other and learnt to overcome issues of pride and past hurt. I particularly enjoyed the unconventional re-entry of Billy’s mother, as a prominent art figure and all the turmoil and challenges it presented to our little band of characters. However I really wish that Osborn had extended this story arc a bit more.

In fact my only complaint with the narrative is that in many ways I felt the ending was rushed. As a whole, Hope’s Road is a well-paced narrative that builds steadily towards a personal and environmental (flood) climax only to kind of stop in the middle of everything and end abruptly. While the addition of an epilogue did answer and tie many lose ends up, I found myself still asking but what happened? Yes, all the characters are accounted for, and our protagonists have learnt some pretty heavy lessons, but I wanted to see their growth even further, I wanted to see more of their transformations; I needed to see how they got from point A to point B rather than simply being told that they did. I wanted to see how Tammy was going to save her farm. I felt certain that the paintings were going to come into play here, for Osborn stressed through out the course of the novel just how expensive they were but nothing came to fruition there. Likewise, I wanted to witness and understand the repairs being made to Travis and Billy’s relationship, especially seeing as the last time we saw these two together, they were at such a cross roads I couldn’t imagine where Osborn was taking them. While I understand the departure of a key figure kind of explained this to an extent, I didn’t feel it soothed the pain caused, nor did it repair the damage it had already caused. In many ways, I felt I needed that glimpse of reconciliation between father and son to complete their growth as characters, but also to complete the overarching ach of the story.

Apart from the whiplash of the stories ending, I really enjoyed Hope’s Road, and look forward to reading more of Osborn’s work in the future.

For more information on Hope’s Road visit the Goodreads page here, or Booktopia.

 My thanks goes to the publisher (Random House Australia) and NetGalley for the copy I received to review.

This novel was read as part of my Australian Women’s Writing Challenge 2013

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