Giving up her teaching job to move to the mountains, Clare plans to restore the house to its original glory. She also hopes to track down a box of missing documents that may shed light on why husband Jack secretly second-mortgaged their former home.
Clare makes friends with the locals, including a young boy, Joe, and soon hears of plans to redevelop Numbulla and to exploit the land bordering the protected wilderness area.
As she joins the protest against the rezoning, it’s clear someone doesn’t want her there and they’ll do anything to stop her…
Written from Clare’s and Joe’s perspectives, Bellevue highlights cross-generational bonds that grow between them as they struggle, individually and together, towards an acceptance of the losses each has sustained.
(Photo credit – Studio Vogue, Canberra)
She trained and qualified as an architect before transferring to Economics. She is Professor Emeritus at the Australian National University, with a PhD from the LSE. She is also interested in public policy.
Alison’s debut novel, Stillwater Creek, was Highly Commended in the 2011 ACT Book of the Year Award, and afterwards published in Reader’s Digest Select Editions in Asia and in Europe. She has also contributed short stories to a number of collections.
Alison is very active on social media and loves doing radio and other interviews.
“I began to write because I felt driven to, and I carry on writing for the same reason. I find it a challenge, but also a liberation”
“When I first started writing fiction, I had little notion of where my inspiration came from. An idea would bob up, apparently from the ether, and I would run with it. It is still the case that ideas for stories arrive fairly randomly, but now I understand that the milieu in which I place a story relates to the life I’ve lived, the places I’ve visited, and what I’ve read”
CHAPTER 1 – 1972
“Everybody should know that Bellevue was inhabited”
“Clare stood on the gravel drive in front of Bellevue. The paintwork around the windows was peeling, moss was flourishing on the slate roof and there were splotches of rust on the corrugated iron roof over the verandah. A romantic might think they were like patches of bark on the trunk of a eucalyptus tree, or eroding layers of rock deposited over the millennia. Though she wasn’t a romantic, hadn’t been one for years, she felt she was going to be happy here”
“If you choose to live in Bellevue, do enjoy it, my dear. But please also keep in mind that you own the house. It doesn’t own you”
“Nearly everyone’s after a quick buck, she thought, and maybe that’s the way of the world. If you can’t get it honestly, get it dishonestly. Steal it, or lobby to steal it with donations to politicians that are little more than bribes”
“She wouldn’t be at all surprised, she thought, if she was becoming an introvert – could loneliness make you introverted? Maybe it was more that introverted people chose to live alone, though she’d not really had much choice in this”
“Sometimes people borrow books on what obsesses them but sometimes they borrow books to escape from what’s obsessing them”
“As Clare listened to the applause, she knew that the words she’d uttered were no longer hers, they were the words of all the protesters, of all these people who cared about their heritage. And she was a part of the mountains too, and part of the mountain community. She had found a new vocation: it was to fight to conserve the unspoilt places of the mountains”
“His face had changed shape. That’s what the right gift could do, make someone light up from within, so that their eyes glowed and their cheeks rounded out”
“Knowledge doesn’t necessarily bring peace. Sometimes it just leads to even more questions”
“Everybody should know that Bellevue was inhabited”
This is the second novel I have read by this author, and what a privilege it has been. The storylines have awakened my interest in all things Australian, with the wonderfully described scenery and well defined characters, having made the pages leap from the book, as if in 3D.
So, without further ado, and whilst desperately trying to avoid ‘spoilers’….
Although this story began back in the late 1950s, it has its roots set firmly in the early 1970s, when Clare inherits Bellevue House, in the will of her late husband Jack’s, Aunt Hilda, much to the chagrin and outright disbelief of that good lady’s own blood relatives, particularly Jack’s younger brother David. It had been Hilda who had taken in a distraught Clare and her young daughter Sophie, some seventeen or so years previously, when Jack had been killed in an accident, leaving them in unknown debt and penniless. She had patiently restored Clare’s faith in the world and mankind, with the beauty and tranquillity surrounding Bellevue and the warmth and affection of people who really cared about her, and had eventually sent a revitalised mother and daughter on their way back to a new life in Sydney, although they had continued to visit this haven of peace and calm whenever they could, and Hilda could tell the deep affection both of them held for Bellevue.
With Sophie, now in her twenties, off travelling in Europe, and she having served her time teaching primary school to repay some of their inherited debts, Clare decides to retire to Bellevue and make it her home permanently. Having been a regular visitor, she is known to many of the locals in the small township of Numbulla, so she has no problem fitting into her surroundings – at least not at first that is. After a short time however, bad things and small freak accidents begin to happen in and around Bellevue and to Clare personally, including some rather distressing and thinly veiled threats. At the heart of this campaign of harassment, is the fact that certain members of the towns business folk and local figureheads, are in favour of a motion by the Sydney authorities, to rezone Numbulla as a tourist destination, buying up prime retail sites, which includes Bellevue and its neighbours, to build hotels and holiday apartments, overlooking the Blue Mountains, a protected area of outstanding national beauty. Even more concerning is the part played in all the underhand wheeling-dealing, by someone she had hitherto thought to be beyond reproach, although their account of events surrounding Jack’s death had never really rung true to her, as hadn’t their version of the circumstances surrounding the vast amount of debt he had left her in.
Renovations to Bellevue forge ahead, making it obvious that Clare is planning on going nowhere. In truth, it is a well known fact that she is something of an environmentalist campaigner and conservation activist and has been front and centre of many previous protests against developers in and around the NSW region. She is therefore happy to be one of the leaders in the push to save Numbulla from development, as are many of her closest friends in town. She is surprised to discover one of her greatest allies is a young lad called Joe, who is suffering from abuse and bullying at school and lives a neglected life at home. Joe, apparently with Aunt Hilda’s blessing, had been using the coach house at Bellevue to pursue a passion which is close to his heart, but for which he is being soundly ridiculed by his family and peers alike. Clare takes Joe under her wing, even managing to win over his father, when he is banned from seeing her, or visiting the house again and together with her newly acquired canine friend, Mutt, Joe becomes part of the family
During the move, Clare has also uncovered some very troubling documents which relate to why Jack had left her with so much debt, however unintentionally and in his mind, for the best of reasons. When her solicitor throws even more light onto some very muddied waters, he leaves Clare momentarily stunned, although if she was truthfully honest, probably in retrospection, not totally surprised. The planning verdict when it is delivered, is for some a cause for celebration and for others a body blow from which they will never recover. For Clare though, the more personal outcome of the decision, together with the new information she is armed with, brings closure to her past with Jack, whilst giving her little joy or solace for the innocent lives which will be damaged irrevocably.
A surprise visitor is surely the icing on Clare’s cake, together with the possible early blossoming of a fledgling romance, which will help ease her road to peace and renewed happiness in the future.
Rich in atmosphere, multi-layered and highly textured, there is a compelling and compassionate honesty and integrity in this immersive storyline. Written in short, well-signposted chapters, which always work so well for me when, like these, they have introductory titles which are relevant and well-considered. There is never a break in pace, although I never felt that I was being rushed through a storyline which couldn’t wait to be over. In fact I could have carried on reading until tying up one set of loose ends, would probably have resulted in creating another, so Alison probably pitched this one just about perfectly.
The writing is at times evocative, poignant and totally captivating. Yet at other times the harsh realities of life in this small community, are laid bare for all to see. There are also one or two moments of humour to be savoured, when the innocent joys of youth overcome the hardships of neglect and poverty, even if only for short and infrequent periods.
They do say that weddings and funerals bring out the worst in people and it would seem that those two events, coupled with some long held jealousies, have shaped so much of Clare’s life and the already rather intense relationships she enjoys with her brother-in-law. Aunt Hilda had been much more shrewd than anyone gave her credit for and knew that not only would Clare and Sophie cherish Bellevue and all the memories it held, but that they would hold firm against those who would destroy not only the house, but the beauty and heritage of the entire landscape.
The narrative is true to its time and the societal and cultural mores of the 1970s, when activist groups began to rally around the causes of saving the environment, cultural artefacts and what remained of an indigenous population’s ways of life and the wildlife they had managed to keep protected from the modern greed for land and wealth.
The characters were so easy to connect with, whether they were in the nice, or not so nice camp. I could almost tell exactly what they were thinking and how they were going to react to a given situation, that I was all ready to cheer for the ‘goodies’ and hope that the ‘baddies’ got everything they had coming to them. Clare had teacher written through her like a stick of rock, in her mannerisms, demeanour and the very way she spoke and that persona only slipped momentarily when the threats against her got too far out of hand for her to cope with alone. Her careful handling of the situation between Joe and his father was particularly poignant, as Clare could see fragments of her own and Sophie’s emotional freeze when Jack had died, another lesson she had learned well from the formidable Aunt Hilda.
I enjoy it when an author can also add that extra dimension to a storyline by taking me on an ‘armchair journey’ to the location. The Blue Mountains NSW Australia, are a real place, although the township of Numbulla seems to be a fictional location. However change just one letter and together with other nearby towns which were truly named, the area becomes easy to plot and a joy to discover, with its unique Aboriginal heritage transcending time. The superb attention to detail and descriptive narrative qualities, combined to showcase a vivid palette of images and colour, which was evocative and enticing.
What typically makes reading such a wonderful experience for me, is that with each and every book, I am taken on a unique and individual journey, by some amazing authors who fire my imagination, stimulate my senses and stir my emotions, and in this case also offered me a delightful cultural experience. This storyline over delivered on just about every front, so thanks for some lovely images to treasure, Alison.
A complimentary PDF of this book for review, was made available by Helen Richardson PR
Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion, and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.
I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However, some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a well-deserved 4 out of 5 stars!
Thank you for taking the time to read my review, I appreciate your support.