Thanks to Penguin for supplying a review copy of this title...
Angela is getting ready for a new year. Part of this tradition is sending off her annual 'Hello from The Gillespies' Christmas letter. Done these days by email, she decides to have a rant as she types, and tell the truth about what has really happened during the year, planning to change back to her normal catch-up letter before sending. She lets off steam spectacularly, telling it like it is, as a form of release. She tells of the change in her husband, Nick, how her three girls are not turning out the way she had hoped they would and how her ten year old son still talks to his imaginary friend. There is a warts and all paragraph on Nick's elderly aunt Celia and how she annoys the living daylights out of her. There is even a whole section on a secret fantasy world that Angela escapes to every now and then. All written with the knowledge that it can be deleted. That is, until Nick sends it to everyone on their mailing list by mistake...
Set in the Australian Outback, Hello from The Gillespies is a story of family and change. A single moment of honest clarity, albeit unintentional, has caused a ripple effect that is irreversible. Angela cannot undo the harm she has caused by the hurtful comments of her honest letter, the same as her family cannot help her when she needs them most.
The story takes a turn, halfway through and the change is immediate. Angela's letter is the crux of the tale for the first half, whereas the family unit is the bones of the second part. Nick has been given the strong silent type role, while the their three daughters reminded me of King Lear's offspring. Young Ig, their son, is a confused little boy who seem lost at sea and in need of constant reassurance. He devolops nicely throughout the book, though, and is the least annoying of the children. His bond with his mother becomes very endearing towards the end and balances out his sister's immaturity (despite their age).
The Outback is lovingly described with stunning visual descriptions of the landscape, wildlife and sense of community. Flashes of the old TV show The Flying Doctors were coming back to me and the accents of the characters even came to life. I found the first half of the novel a little dragged out and Angela's moods were on par with her daughters annoying ways. I felt sorry for Ig and Nick and was beginning to lose interest. Then the book shifted.
The family came into their own, the change giving them some breathing space, and a trip to Ireland peppered some flavour on the story.
Throughout the novel, Monica's writing is wonderful. Her skill at describing the Australian landscape, and rural way of life, is divine. It is obvious she enjoyed researching this Outback world and it gave me an insight to a world I know little of. The sisters were maddening, like teenagers rather than in their thirties, and if I was isolated with them, who knows what I would do to them. Luckily, Angela is blessed with an amazing friend, and neighbour, Joan. She is there for her, through thick and thin, and shows us the power of friendship.
Monica McInerney has written another great novel. Although very long, at over 500 pages, it explores the concept of family and the feeling of belonging somewhere. I may never have been to Australia, but after reading this, I feel as if I have spent a year with the Gillespies and experienced some isolated Outback life. A feel good read ideal for a week's night time reading by the fire.