La Rochelle’s Road by Tanya Moir, Black Swan, RRP$39.99, ISBN 9781869793388, Available now.
More regular BookieMonster readers may know that I have a downright picky relationship to historical fiction – I love it and I hate it – mainly because it’s one of those genres where writers can get away with some awful tripe.
But when historical fiction is good, it’s very, very good (right in the middle of its forehead) – it can be one of the most entertaining genres around. And so it is with La Rochelle’s Road, a wonderfully entertaining and perfectly paced read.
La Rochelle’s Road takes us to Banks Peninsula and introduces us to Daniel Peterson and his family – new arrivals to New Zealand, looking to make their fortune with a grass seed “farm” (is that the right term?) on land they’ve purchased, sight unseen, in London. Not surprisingly the remote block turns out to need what can only be described as a lot of back-breaking work, and the odd neighbours, the harsh weather and the reality of life in NZ begins to drive splinters through the family, and they slowly disintegrate.
Daniel’s daughter Hester discovers a journal in their house – the journal of the previous inhabitant, Etienne La Rochelle, and gradually she discovers a new way through her new life – and possibilities she’s never considered. As Hester reads the journal, so do we, with journal entries interwoven with the Petersons story.
Moir balances the story of the Petersons so perfectly that the writing feels wonderfully timed – not a word, sentence or paragraph to spare and nothing out of place. Small details become hugely evocative of a sparsely-populated colonial New Zealand – the simple descriptions of the long walk the Petersons must take to travel from their land to the nearest town in Pigeon Bay, the references to the constant sounds of birds, the descriptions of the harsh landscape. Gradually Moir draws her reader in, building tension and releasing it with several pack-a-punch twists and turns.
I became so bewitched with the book that when the final “twist” came I actually took a huge intake of breath and ended up gasping. I rarely become that invested in a book – but in La Rochelle’s Road the human drama being played out against spectacularly looming landscapes is impossible to resist.
La Rochelle’s Road delivers on all levels, making it an extremely satisfying read. I am now hoping Tanya Moir is hard at work on another novel – based on this impressive debut I will be first in line to read it. Highly recommended.