Book Review: Tricia Stringer's "Heart Of The Country" (2015)

Heart Of The Country is a historical fiction novel that lives up to its name. The book is by Tricia Stringer who has lived in rural Australia for many years and really gets at the heart and core of this great, Southern land. This novel is the first in what should be an extremely enjoyable and promising trilogy and slice of Australiana.

The story is an epic one focusing on three white families as well as some indigenous Australians they befriend. The book begins when Thomas Baker, a naïve but hard-working free settler after he arrives in South Australia. His mother had passed away earlier and his father did not survive the long passage from England. Despite experiencing grief, Baker has a steely resolve and wants to make something of himself in this strange, foreign land.

Baker accepts a job as an overseer at a country property. To work there he needs to buy a horse and he meets a conniving and unscrupulous ex-convict named Seth Whitby (and sometimes Septimus Wiltshire) who swindles the trusting man out of his money. This is not the first time the pair will cross paths but things do improve for Baker once he settles at his new homestead and meets his spirited and single neighbour, Lizzie Smith, who he will eventually marry.

Heart Of The Country shares a few things in common with Kate Grenville’s The Secret River and some of the late Bryce Courtney’s works. Stringer’s writing is very vivid and engaging. She provides excellent descriptions of the barren landscapes while also offering some great characterisation. The characters are all very interesting and in most cases they are very relatable and endearing (with the exception of the rogue Whitby/Wiltshire).

Stringer’s book is a novel but the story feels very authentic and true. The reader gets a real sense of the troubles that the first convicts and settlers faced when they first arrived in Australia and the different relationships they shared with the indigenous people living here. The environment and landscape feel quite brutal and unforgiving and it is inspiring to read about people who were so fiercely determined, strong and resilient, meaning they got through the good times as well as the bad ones.

Heart Of The Country is an excellent fiction book about the community in Adelaide in the 19th century and the love, hate, greed and opportunism they were faced with. The book is beautifully written and very well put together, spanning over three generations of events. The moments of tense drama will hook you in while the vivid prose and descriptions will make you feel like you’re also in the passenger seat. In short, it’s one fine read.

Heart Of The Country is out now through Harlequin Books Australia.