Author: Jennifer Scoullar
Michael Joseph RRP $32.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
I’ve been a fan of Jennifer Scoullar’s rural romance for a while now – both Billabong Bend and Currawong Creek held strong appeal for me. What stands out in Scoullar’s writing, in a genre that is well-represented in Australia, is her passion for the country’s flora and fauna. Her stories, already worthy in their own right as a romance, are enhanced by the descriptive setting and the clear message that the country and its wildlife are to be cherished. Turtle Reef is no exception; set in a remote coastal community at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef, there’s a strong reminder of our environmental responsibility amid other happenings.
For zoologist Zoe King, Turtle Reef looks like a great place for a fresh start. Tired of the Sydney rat race and fed up with men, Zoe is more than ready to put her old life behind her and take on the new, starting with her exciting new job as a marine scientist. Instead of traffic and concrete jungles, she’s surrounded by rainforests, sugar cane plantations and a gorgeous coastal reef. What more could she hope for? Well, if the attractive Quinn Cooper wasn’t engaged to her boss, Bridget, life wouldn’t be far off perfect.
It’s sink or swim at the Reef Centre, as Zoe quickly finds, with her duties ranging from feeding sharks to mapping seagrass as part of an environmental study. She throws herself into the role, pushing aside her attraction to Quinn, and proves to be a quick study, but becomes concerned when animals on the reef begin to sicken and die. Her investigations lead to a troubling dilemma as her professional and personal concerns collide with her the interests of the community … and Quinn. Zoe has to decide whether to put the protection of the reef ahead of her personal safety, career and chance at love.
As an example of contemporary mainstream fiction in an Australian setting, Turtle Reef holds up well. The message of environmental responsibility shines through loud and clear, and issues such as responsible development and farming form part of the message. I learnt a lot I didn’t know, from cane farming methods old and new, to the way mother octopuses sacrifice themselves for their young. The insight to training methods of animals, demonstrated beautifully by secondary character Josh, was informative. Once again, Scoullar celebrates the Australian environment, but holds it up to scrutiny as something that must be respected if it is to remain celebrated.
Whether this is a romance as such, is up for debate. I see this book as more contemporary fiction with romantic elements. Zoe’s attraction to Quinn is made clear to readers, but is not explored until late in the piece. Likewise, Quinn’s feelings for Zoe are not revealed until late; readers are not privy to his attraction to Zoe and for much of the book it seems unrequited. The spark that carries a romance through to the happy ending wasn’t quite there; I didn’t quite feel the love, so to speak. Yes, there were reasons for that, but because of that, I’d hesitate to call this a full-blown romance. Did that impact my enjoyment of the book? Not at all. It’s just that people expecting a romance may feel a little short-changed.
Romance aside, Scoullar has delivered a great piece of writing about the tropic north, with descriptive prose that’s vivid, informative and thought-provoking. One to add to your to-read lists, especially if you share a passion for Australian flora and fauna and its preservation.
Available from good bookstores and Penguin Books Australia. My copy was courtesy of Penguin.