Richard Yaxley, Harmony, Scholastic Australia, March 2021, 272 pp., RRP $18.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781760973261
In this book, as in This is My Song¸ Richard Yaxley explores inter-generational connectedness and the surprising discoveries that can come from that. The book begins with a kind of Romeo and Juliet romance between two young people at the outbreak of the First World War. Tom and Grace are separated by decisions made by others and, in his unhappiness, Tom joins the army and, with a terrible inevitability, is killed.
The narrative voice and focalisation moves throughout the book as we hear from Grace and her descendants. Her son, Will, moves overseas and we are privy to the letters exchanged between him and his mother, a narrative technique that allows us to understand their thoughts, emotions and responses to each other. The book is divided into sections, each with a title relevant to a key feature of that section. The first, for example, in which Grace and Tom meet on the treed edge of a creek is called The Green World and the final one is called Coda, a musical term for the ending of a piece of music, often forming an addition to the basic structure. This is a highly appropriate term for the final glimpse the reader has of a very old Grace as she dreams or imagines what her life might have been if its beginning had been different.
The action takes place in Australia, Gallipoli, London and Ireland and the setting is always important. The Australian setting evokes small-town country life. Returning to Australia for a visit brings great homesickness to Grace’s daughter-in-law and granddaughters. Their return to Ireland means a kind of anchoring for the older girl who becomes a nun but ultimately tears the family apart when Will leaves them to go back to Australia.
This is a story of love and loss, of families and what makes a family, of meetings and farewells and of secrets and revelations. The ending is moving and poignant, bringing together all the threads that have been created before. Hidden secrets are revealed to the reader who, in many ways, knows more about what has gone on than the characters do themselves.
At the end of the book there is a very interesting author’s note. It provides background to his inspiration for writing this book. It is based on his great-uncle, Tom Stott who was killed early in the Gallipoli campaign and about whom the family actually know very little. Yaxley has imagined what might have happened if the real Tom had had a love affair as he depicts for the fictional Tom. As the narrative explores, a single action can have far-reaching consequences, consequences that can echo down the generations.
Reviewed by Margot Hillel