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Ash Mountain by Helen Fitzgerald

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | Crime/Thriller | General Fiction

By Swirl and Thread

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Ash Mountain by Helen Fitzgerald is published with Orenda Books. It is described as ‘a warm, darkly funny portrait of small town life and a shocking and truly distressing account of a catastrophic event that changes things forever’

Ash Mountain is a shockingly powerful story about a family and a town. As a catastrophic bushfire rages through the streets of this close community the fear, the horror, the sheer confusion and distress is frighteningly depicted in a narrative that switches back to the before, introducing us to the different characters and revealing past secrets that were hidden, to be forgotten.

Helen Fitzgerald has a very individual style to her writing that really grips the reader, gaining the full attention immediately. Ash Mountain is centred around Fran, a woman in her forties, who has returned to the town to care for her sick father. Fran moves back with her teenage daughter and with no great expectations for the days ahead. With no carer experience Fran is understandably nervous but Fran is tough and is prepared to rise to the challenge. As a teenager in Ash Mountain, Fran gave birth to a son Dante. Dante, when older, chose to remain in Ash Mountain, the small community lifestyle appealing to his laid back ways. Fran is delighted to live near her son again and, as the days pass, she reacquaints herself with old friends, neighbours and the more antagonistic of townspeople.

Fran’s memories of her earlier teenage years are very nostalgic and melancholic, as we are forced to remember the awkwardness of those anxious years when our peers’ opinions were all that mattered. Her own teenage daughter, Vonny, is exploring her own sexuality and boundaries, reminding Fran of her earlier years but also unexpectedly revealing the darker secrets of this very close-knit town.

Helen Fitzgerald expertly weaves the past and present throughout, keeping that sense of urgency and panic a constant presence. As the fire takes hold, the descriptions are just heartbreaking, soul-destroying as we witness a community in terror. ‘The Day of the Fire‘ depicts with great authenticity the actions and reactions of the different characters, with one chapter in particular very distressing. My heart broke there and then.

‘A heart-breaking slice of domestic noir, and a disturbing disaster thriller that you will never forget.’
– Orenda Books

Ash Mountain is a very apt name for this book as the dust of the community comes slowly falling to the ground. Can it arise like a Phoenix from the ashes of it’s pain?

Helen Fitzgerald skillfully writes about the tension, the hysteria, the shameful secrets and the pure horror that this small rural community have had to endure. The heat jumps off the pages, the terror is palpable. The past and it’s dark secrets are wonderfully knitted into this distressing and potent story.

Ash Mountain, at only 211 pages, packs a serious punch. It is a breath-taking story that captivates the reader, while also expertly exploring and sensitively handling many societal themes in a very unique and quirky manner.

Ash Mountain is a very forceful tale, one that will remain in the mind of the reader for a long time after. Emotive and very poignant, Ash Mountain is a incredible portrayal of a very shocking story, one that felt all-too real, one that I highly recommend to all.

As a side note I have to mention the cover with an image captured by Rob Dixon. In November 2019, Rob Dixon and his family experienced the fear of the bushfire, as the flames raged for weeks. His daughter stood in a doorway and, as she called out to him, he was caught by the image in front of him and took this photo.

“Thankfully the fires didn’t affect our particular part of town, but surrounding areas were hit badly. The Australian bushfires are an awful thing and the 2019 season was a particularly devastating one. Hundreds of homes and wildlife destroyed. Thousand of hectares wiped out. Many lives lost. The photo of my daughter is a stark reminder of that day.
I’ll never forget it”

– Rob Dixon

(c) Swirl and Thread

Order your copy online here.

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