Wow! What a ride. Five stars from me. I loved this fast-paced page turner set in Tasmania. A haunting story with a satisfying conclusion about family relationships, Tasmanian Devils, and logging of Tasmanian forests. The Abbott family consist of Fraser, a timber logging magnate, his son Matt who is-a head ranger and conservationist and Matt’s wife Penny who is a talented taxidermist. Throw into the mix an American research geneticist keen to steal someone else’s husband, a raft of century old secrets and crooked politics and you have the scene for a believable tale set in a still beautiful corner of the world. The story covers a lot of ground including research into Tasmanian devil facial tumours, a marriage in trouble and includes a fantastic tale of the birth of an old Mountain Ash tree, and the Tasmanian landscape is artfully depicted. I am keen to enjoy more of Jennifer’s offerings and would recommend this title.
Jennifer Scoullar is known as a writer of Australian rural romances, but The Memory Tree is something more, it's a love story that begins where the 'happy ever after' ends.
Penny and Matt are married and united in their desire to help save Tasmanian Devils from the terrible cancer that's decimating their populations in Tasmania. But they both have insecurities, especially Matt whose relationship with his Father has been fiery for years. So when Penny decides to learn the finer points of taxidermy from Matt's father, she decides to keep it a secret. Just to keep the peace.
And then Matt accidentally kills an animal on the way home one night, a very special animal. For reasons that become apparent as the story unfolds, he can't tell Penny, and guilt starts to drive a wedge between them. When American geneticist, Sarah, arrives to map the genome of the Devils, the tense situation between husband and wife becomes a whole lot worse.
One of my favourite lines in the entire book is this: 'Matt froze, but apparently Sarah's vision wasn't based on movement." To me, that line encapsulates Scoullar's writing perfectly: understated, funny, sharp, intensely vivid. [For those few readers who have never seen Jurassic Park, the deadly T-Rex tracks its victims by movement]
And yet, while Sarah turns out to be a bit of a man-eater when it comes to her love-life, she is utterly dedicated to her work and not a two dimensional villain. In fact, there is not a single character in the entire story that's two dimensional. Even those with just a walk on part seem to move in 3D, and that capacity to make characters come alive extends to every creature in the book, including the ones with fur and feathers.
The thing that kept me reading long past the point where I should have stopped, however, was the question mark that hung over the story. How could Matt extricate himself from the whopping big hole he'd dug? How could he save the animals he loved without totally betraying Penny and his own integrity? How could a marriage survive so many secrets and lies?
I was prepared for the ending to go either way, so long as there was a resolution that felt /real/. I was not disappointed.
For my money, The Memory Tree is simply the best thing Jennifer Scoullar has ever written, and I hope she continues to write love stories about the bush and the living creatures that inhabit it, no matter how many legs they have.