Bridie’s Choice by Karly Lane

Published December 1st, 2012 by Allen &Unwin

Paperback, 328 pages – I own a copy

4/5 Stars

Bridie Farrell and Shaun Broderick come from opposite sides of the tracks. Unlike Bridie’s family, who are perennial strugglers, the Brodericks are the wealthy owners of one of the most prestigious properties in the district. Still, all is not well in either family. Bridie’s father is doing time in prison and her younger brother has fallen in with the wrong crowd. Shaun has problems of a different kind, with his dictatorial father not allowing him to take his own direction in life. Shaun’s parents are dismayed when he eschews the charms of the district’s most eligible young women and falls in love with Bridie instead, and they make their feelings clear not just to their son but to Bridie as well. However, parental opposition is just the first of many troubles that Bridie will faceGoodreads Blurb

Bridie’s Choice was the first novel by Australian author Karly Lane that I had the chance to read. I picked it up on a whim from work from one day and loved it so much, that I now own her entire backlist!  Including her new e-book Burnt, which I can’t wait to read.

In small town Tooncanny, Bridie Farrell is easily identified as one of those Farrell girls. Her father’s in jail, and despite Bridie’s best efforts, it looks like her younger brother is heading down the same path – a point that irks Bridie to no end. Both a dreamer and realist, Bridie longs for a better future for herself and her brother; a future where her very name is not tainted and looked down upon. 

Shaun Broderick is the prodigal son in many respects, who returns home to his much beloved family farm Jinjilu. Headstrong Shaun first appears much like a product of the genre, with his wayward absence and the way in which he constantly butts head with his father over the way Jinjilu is and should be run. This impression is quickly turned on its head however as the story develops and Shaun becomes so much more than another trope of the genre.

Both Bridie and Shaun are fiery characters set against a harsh setting and an even more unforgiving township. Far from perfect, both characters both amplify universal truths about the bush, while also bringing something new and exciting and real to a very popular genre. Much like themselves, their relationship progresses naturally and forms the basis of the book, situating this rural narrative firmly as an outback romance. What’s more the characters are not only engaging but presented well, and the town and its people vibrant and true to life. Furthermore, Lane, a gifted storyteller, is adept at being able to keep her characters true to themselves throughout the entire span of the narrative, without losing any of their inherent quirks and ambitions along the way simply to help/carry along the plot line. Nowhere in this novel will you find the characters changing tactics to get ‘their man/girl’ or unresolved tensions and ambitions filtering through the floorboards and forgotten for sake of ease of the narrative. In fact, Lane is a master at doing the exact opposite and constantly positions her characters on the outside of the genres expectations. I was worried at one stage when Bridie and Shaun had finally sorted some things out that Bridie was going to loose sight of her plans and ambitions in life, ambitions that have ruled her life and her place in the book. I was relieved that Lane masterly created a narrative where not only did this not happen and Bridie refused to sell out to the ideals of a relationship, and yet she explored these aspects in all its forms.

What really sets this novel apart for me is the way in which Lane has used the recognisable conventions of the genre, and then turned them on their head. The genre’s strong, independent and feisty characters are evident through the characterisation of Bridie and Shaun, but they are also undermined by their own vulnerabilities and insecurities. Similarly, the romantic notions are distorted and pushed to their limits when ambitions and character determination push the relationship aside to stay true to themselves and diverge from the mainstream path of what constitutes a rural romance and thus chook lit.

Straying once more from some of the more serious narrative traditions in the genre, Lane mostly leaves the issues of depression, drought and alcoholism out of her novel, and chooses instead to focus on the aspects of family relations in all its various forms. While at first glance this makes the narrative appear less serious in its approach then say Rachael Treasure’s Jillaroo, which deals with aspects such as severe depression, suicide and alcoholism, it still stands as a credit to Lane for the way in which she chooses her battles wisely and tackles the issues of family and one’s place in society from another angle all together.

No matter where you live, or where you come from, you will be familiar with the notion and stereotypes of ‘us’ and ‘them’. Lane takes these notions one-step further in this book by not only posing the difference between the town and country, but also the divide between those within each of these respective states Vs those who are not, and thus questions the issue of what it takes to belong and how far people are willing and able to fight to overcome their differences. By highlighting and focusing on this, Lane makes this novel so much more than a romance between two people from different side of the tracks – although that does feature within the narrative as well – as it in turn explores what it means to feel this way and how we come to define ourselves based on our definitions, not those given to us by society.

At its heart Bridie’s Choice is a novel about family and the choices one makes in life. Lane is an experienced and talented storyteller who will not only take you on a journey of discovery, but will leave you questioning what it is exactly that makes up your own position within society. Although fast paced, and well crafted, Bridie’s Choice is a novel that fans of contemporary romances and rural fiction/Chook Lit are bound to love, for at the end of the day its an entertaining, feel good read that leaves you wanting more.

Read as part of the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2013 and counts towards my Romance Appreciation Challenge 2013

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