Heart of the Grass Tree is a story about a family – three generations however, they are all unexpectedly linked together without them even realizing it. We follow initially the story of Nell who is the grandmother who dies suddenly and leaves behind a story which none of her other family members were even aware of.
This story is based around the family home on Kangaroo Island. Nell fell in love with a fellow resident on the Island, however, the relationship dynamics was somewhat frowned upon and ended up in tragic circumstances and with Nell living with a lot of regret. It also changed the relationship with Nell’s mother not for the good, distance was certainly put between them both.
This story has never left Nell and has always seemed to haunt her. During her later years, she wanted to make sure the story was never forgotten so, started to write it down which her family found. I felt that this story certainly made the family realise why Nell may have been a certain way. I felt that both Pearl (Nell’s Granddaughter) and Diana (Nell’s Daughter) were sad that they did not ask more questions or learn more whilst Nell was alive and be able to help Nell with her inner torment and guilt. Although both Pearl and Diana are living with their own real-life issues, Nell was looked upon with admiration as she seemed to be the stabilizing factor in all of their lives.
Molly during her writing informs us of the island’s early history of the European Sealers and the first contact with Ngarrindjeri people. When you read it, you cringe and despair around the treatment of the local people. European settlers then just seemed to feel that every land was theirs and every person they met was their slaves. It is just a time in history that my brain just cannot justify or accept that this was deemed acceptable. But I guess, during that period in history it did happen a lot, all over the world.
We experience and witness grief running through the family and the different ways people deal with this. Grief is a topic that does not get spoken about, or if it does it is not always done in the most appropriate way. But I have been there, and I felt their grief, I was with them when they cleared Nell’s house, as I have been there myself, finding Nell’s treasured memories or what they initially thought may have been rubbish when in fact meant something to Nell. Going through someone’s personal possession even when they are a relative, felt incredibly personal, too personal. However, I also felt this brought the family back together as one unit, acknowledgement they are all grieving, they all have their “skeletons in the cupboard” and they needed to get through this for Nell and to get Nell’s story out there and not be ashamed of it.
During the house clearing out, the family stumbled on paintings that were familiar, possessions that struck a chord and poems about what happened in the past. Together these all established the past story, the story that happened on Kangaroo Island and more importantly Nell. Nell’s story which broke my heart and I felt so emotional that she had to hide this story and be ashamed. What I loved the most was that each of the family members had different and fond stories of Nell, she really meant a lot to each family member not in the same way but they each had everlasting memories which I felt they would all cherish forever. They all have busy, and at times difficult lives, but this moment, they came together and thought about Nell and reflected on Nell and what advice she may have given them in the past or done for them in the past and then realizing that she did not have it all great and she herself, had a very difficult past that she has had to live with for a long time.
I adored this story, I feel that most families do have a tale to tell from stories from the war to family tragic events. They should be heard and people should not have to live a life time with regret or lies. I loved Nell from the beginning I wanted to hear her story and help her as much as I could to try and take away the guilt and pain. Kangaroo Island played a massive part in the story telling being so imbedded in the good, bad and ugly of all of their stories. But it is a place they all seem to drift back to for comfort and for the memories and for Nell.
I loved this novel, I loved how Molly wrapped around a historical story about todays, it worked in such a wonderful, beautiful way they complimented one another. I learnt a lot about Kangaroo Island and in fact since reading this book have been to visit because of Heart of the Grass Tree.
About the Book
When Pearl’s grandmother Nell dies unexpectedly, Pearl and her family – mother Diana, sister Lucy – return to Kangaroo Island to mourn and farewell her. Each of them knew Nell intimately but differently, and each woman must reckon with Nell’s passing in her own way. But Nell had secrets too, and as Pearl, Diana and Lucy interrogate their feelings about the island, Pearl starts to pull together the scraps Nell left behind – her stories, poems, paintings – and unearths a connection to the island’s early history, of the European sealers and their first contact with the Ngarrindjeri people.
As the three women are in grief pulled apart from each other, Pearl’s deepening connection to their history, the island’s history, grounds her, and will ultimately bring the women back to each other.