SWEET WATTLE CREEK
Author: Kaye Dobbie
Harlequin MIRA Australia RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
Women’s experiences over three time periods are explored with a light touch by Kaye Dobbie in her latest novel, Sweet Wattle Creek. It’s a warmly written novel of love and relationships that weaves together three women’s stories and highlights one thing they all have in common: they’ve all had to make tough choices. What woman hasn’t? It’s an experience common to all in the context of love and relationships, but for women, the added element is societal pressure.
The story is woven together through the chance discovery of an antique wedding dress ahead of Sweet Wattle Creek’s Centenary celebrations. Sophie, a journalist working in the town, is fascinated by the beautiful but decaying dress and decides to write a story about its provenance. Her investigations reveal that the dress is a rare collectible designer item, but who does it belong to? It’s an investigation fraught with challenge, not the least a personal one that will put the lives of Sophie and her son in danger if they are found in Sweet Wattle Creek.
Unlike Sophie, readers know that the dress belongs to Belle Bartholomew, who arrived in Sweet Wattle Creek in 1931 to claim her inheritance – a run-down hotel that belonged to the woman she believes is her aunt, Martha Ambrose. The dress has been packed away in a box; it was never worn for its intended purpose because her fiance was killed in the war. Belle’s arrival coincides with the Great Depression and the town is divided about the treatment of “travellers” who are seeking food, work and shelter; Belle’s decision to help some of them quickly puts her offside with the community.
And finally, there’s Martha, who gave her child to her brother and his wife to be raised. While avoiding scandal would have been a logical assumption behind Martha’s choice, the reason is far more sinister. The child is in danger. Of the three women, Martha is developed the least and she remains more of a shadowy character for readers. The reasons behind her choice are revealed, but readers don’t really get to know Martha – only through hearsay.
Dobbie pulls in themes of domestic violence, betrayal, loss, love, happiness and belonging into a gentle story that is carefully linked together. It’s not hard-hitting, but there’s some suspense that builds ever-so-quietly as Sophie’s discovery leads to her own discovery by her violent ex-partner. There’s love, but it’s not a romance; instead, each of the characters face tough choices in the name of love, and take risks that they hope, may lead to love. However, this is developed really only with Belle and Sophie. Although they have fears, the women display incredible strength in times of hardship, rising above the expectations of others to do what they believe is right for them and those they love. That’s what this book is really about: women. It’s like a collective portrait of women which includes elements of strength, patience, compassion, giving, beauty and love, but doesn’t shy away from painting the darker elements like jealousy, resentment, judgement and revenge.
For me, the most interesting aspect of this story was the insight to the aftermath of war and the Great Depression, which came through Belle’s story. What stood out was the way the community pulled together to protect their own interests, dissuading outsiders – the travellers – from belonging to the small town of Sweet Wattle Creek. This storyline gave Belle a chance to shine as she stood up against the townsfolk.
Overall, Sweet Wattle Creek is an engaging and well-written read. It didn’t take my breath away, but I still enjoyed it.
Available from good bookstores. My copy was courtesy of Harlequin Australia via JAM PR.