THE SADDLER BOYS
Author: Fiona Palmer
Penguin Australia RRP $32.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
Fiona Palmer deftly draws contemporary issues into a rural setting in her latest novel, The Saddler Boys, bringing to life situations that affect rural areas – in this case a school closure, which will greatly impact on the local community – as well as matters of child custody and domestic violence. The result is a warm and moving novel that deals with these painful issues in a realistic and sensitive manner, while still maintaining a rosy sheen of romance, community and friendship.
Wealthy city girl Natalie takes up a teaching post at a tiny school in the Western Australian wheatbelt to spread her wings a little before settling down. In Perth she has a handsome, successful boyfriend, Gary, who wants to marry her, and she lacks for nothing thanks to her well-off parents. However, she’s expected to fit in with society life after her marriage, and she just wants a little time. The community is a bit of a culture shock for the girl with the fancy car and fashionista clothes, but its friendly and welcoming, and she soon finds her place and the space she craves. Among the people she meets is Billy, one of her students, and his single father, Drew, who are trying to move on after the death of their beloved grandmother and mother.
Before long, Nat (or Natty) joins the town in fighting to keep its beloved school open, while forming firm friendships with the locals. But this new life conflicts with expectations back in Perth, and Gary feels threatened by her friendship with Drew. When Billy’s mother turns up unexpectedly and wants to see her son, Nat uses her family connections to help Drew, which only angers Gary further. She’s in a tough position. Does she help the Saddler boys or does she go back to life in Perth and move on?
I thoroughly enjoyed The Saddler Boys. Palmer draws on her love of the Australian rural landscape and lifestyle to bring readers an engaging marked by colourful characters and realistic situations. Nat’s a lovely lead – she’s got a heart for children, a strong sense of justice, conveys a warmth that readers will relate to, but despite her soft and giving nature, in the end she proves she’s no pushover. Drew is also written well. His love and protectiveness for his son struck me as completely believable (it reminded me of someone I know). The attraction between the two provides a nice undercurrent, even though they can’t explore this for most of the book, because Nat’s otherwise engaged. Nat’s parents are little more than asides for most of the tale and come across as cold and money motivated, and it was good to see a different side of them by the end.
For me, this is my favourite Fiona Palmer book yet – the Saddler boys pull at the heartstrings in all the right ways.
Available from good bookstores. My copy was courtesy of Penguin Books Australia.