Author: Jenn J McLeod
Simon & Schuster RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
Jenn J McLeod returns to Calingarry Crossing with Simmering Season, her second novel after the highly successful House for all Seasons (reviewed here). Her first novel whet my appetite for more from McLeod (I rated the debut novel as one of my top reads for 2013), so I was pleased to receive an advance copy from the publisher. It’s safe to say that with Simmering Season, McLeod has cemented herself as an Australian contemporary fiction writer to watch; like its predecessor, this book is full of heart.
After years in Sydney helping her fame-obsessed and self-absorbed husband meet his music dreams, Maggie Lindeman is back in Calingarry Crossing. She only plans to be there long enough to sell the family pub, now that her former preacher-turned-publican father has dementia, but no one’s biting so the temporary move is more of the indefinite variety. In between keeping a protective eye on her 17-year-old son, managing the pub, visiting her father, fending off her husband’s “When are you coming back so I can focus on me?” entreaties, dealing with a difficult hotel guest and helping organise a school reunion, she’s got her hands full. Everything’s simmering along, but Maggie has no idea a perfect storm is heading her way in the form of Dan Ireland, her former teenage crush and the one everyone blames for the death of her older brother.
Dan returns to Calingarry Crossing for the reunion at his wife’s request. These days he’s a police crash investigator; it’s his way of making up for what happened in his youth. When he and Maggie meet, they realise there’s a connection between them, but each of them has a partner, so where can it go? Before their simmering attraction can go further, some loose ends need to be tied up, including Dan’s guilt over his youth … and the way they are is unexpected.
Simmering Season depicts small town life with heart and colour. While there is a romance (and don’t worry, the loose ends do get tied up first), the story is even more so about returning to one’s roots, belonging and finding one’s own self. This is explored through a number of characters, with some undergoing significant character development (such as Fiona), and others undergoing more subtle change (such as Maggie and Dan). Maggie, in particular, learns that she is more than just a musician’s wife – she is a kind, resourceful, protective woman who comes into her own once she returns to her home town. It just takes her a while to see it.
Simmering Season can be read as a standalone novel, but reading House for all Seasons will make you understand some of Fiona’s behaviour better (her mother was one of four narrators in House). For me, there was also a sense of familiarity as I read, a sense of returning “home”, because some of the characters in House make an appearance and I was able to see what happened to some (not all) of them. Structurally, Simmering Season is different to House (four seasons, with a different and distinct narrator for each) whereas in Simmering Season Maggie’s voice is the most prominent, and it really is her story.
McLeod is adept at infusing a distinct Australian atmosphere into her writing via characters and description; this Aussie feel is one of the things I enjoy most about her books because it all feels so familiar. Simmering Season is a worthy read and a good follow up to House for all Seasons, but if I had to pick a favourite, I’d choose the first. I think the house and the magical elements surrounding it and the four lead characters set it apart.
Available from good bookstores. This copy was courtesy of Simon & Schuster.
Bookish treat: I enjoyed this with a small bowl of fancy caramel and macadamia nut ice-cream. Sweet, smooth, with a little bit of bite.