Now and then, between reading my usual literary fiction novels, I like to slow down, curl up with a page turning bestseller or comforting family saga… and simply escape.
I hoped that Rain Music, Di Morrissey’s latest novel, would provide a welcome respite to my busy, end-of-year-end-of-study stress. After all, Morrissey has a reputation for being one of Australia’s best loved storytellers (which is a big call when you consider the epic stories from the likes of Bryce Courtenay).
First impressions weren’t good. The cover is reminiscent of an eighties sitcom with gold embossing and local Australian flora. However, I have learned from reading other popular women’s fiction, such as Rosamund Pilcher, not to judge these books by their covers. The floral covers often hide compelling and complex stories.
However, Rain Music lacked the captivating page-turning plot lines and gritty realism of Courtenay’s novels and it also lacked the warmth and depth of character development that you will find in a Pilcher epic. Reading this book largely felt like drinking a cup of luke warm berry tea: slow paced, underwhelming and a little bit snobby.
The story follows Ned and Belle, brother and sister who have been estranged since the death of their father. Ned escapes to the backwoods of North Queensland to focus on his music (title tie in right there) and Belle follows him to try and fix their relationship.
When brother and sister can stop fighting and making up every few pages, they meet a cast of interesting characters, explore the history, flora and fauna of North Queensland and discover a seedy underground crime circle.
The dialogue felt very heavy handed (E.g. ‘Thank you for saying that. I certainly agree with you there, but I have to say that . . .’) The crime element felt as though it was a device to force the characters to develop in some way because the book was nearing its end. And as for the ending, I saw that coming from a mile off.
That said, I am not going to write off Morrissey’s books completely. The strengths in this novel are the historical elements and the passages where Morrissey describes the Australian landscape in all of its splendor. I felt the heat of the old goldfields, the humidity of the ancient Daintree rainforest and the salty tang of the white-sand beaches.
Morrissey weaves the history of people the land, (the arrival of James Cook, the gold rush, Aboriginal history, the early Catholic schools and the White Australia Policy of the early 1900s) into the narrative of the story. For a moment I had a glimpse of what could be if Morrissey ditched Ned and Belle’s dramatics and wrote about what is clearly her passion – the landscape and the people who live upon it. Now that would be a story that I would read again.