Fran hates her hometown, and she thought she’d escaped. But her father is ill, and needs care. Her relationship is over, and she hates her dead-end job in the city, anyway.
She returns home to nurse her dying father, her distant teenage daughter in tow for the weekends. There, in the sleepy town of Ash Mountain, childhood memories prick at her fragile self-esteem, she falls in love for the first time, and her demanding dad tests her patience, all in the unbearable heat of an Australian summer.
As past friendships and rivalries are renewed, and new ones forged, Fran’s tumultuous home life is the least of her worries, when old crimes rear their heads and a devastating bushfire ravages the town and all of its inhabitants…
I am happy to be taking my part in the blog tour today to mark the paperback publication of Ash Mountain by Helen Fitzgerald. Thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part, and to Karen Sullivan of Orenda Books for my digital copy, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.
This is quite a difficult review to write, because I want to give a true reflection of how I felt about the book, whilst balancing that with external factors that I believe affected my reading of it. I have really struggled this last week emotionally for a variety of reasons and, unfortunately, I think this bled through to my reactions to this book. In fact, if I hadn’t been reading it for a blog tour, I probably would have set it to one side to come back to at another time, when I was in a different frame of mind. As it was, I ploughed on, but probably had a different feeling about the book than I would have if I’d come to it in a more upbeat frame of mind.
I’ve had a difficult week, and I think I really needed some escapist fiction, and this isn’t it. This is a dark, noir exploration of the dark undercurrents running through a small town, which are brought in to sharp focus when Fran returns to the place she hates to nurse her seriously ill father, just at a time where the town is threatened by a deadly bush fire. A lot of the topics explored in this book are extremely harrowing, and the author addresses them head on, without flinching and with huge emotional impact. This is something I normally love in a book, and I know it will be what draws a lot of readers to the novel. Rightly so, the novel deserves a wide readership because the writing is stunning, unfortunately I was emotionally unequipped to deal with it this week and it felt extremely bleak to me.
There is no doubt that the character development in this book is expertly done and works perfectly to draw the reader in and make the reader love or hate them. Again, this was part of the problem. I was TOO emotionally invested in the characters to deal with their struggles at the moment, and could feel their pain and distress. The book is a real rollercoaster of a ride emotionally, and the reader needs to be prepared for it. It packs a powerful emotional punch that I am sure would leave me fairly breathless at any time but completely floored me on this occasion.
The timeline jumps about between the day of the fire, the ten days or so leading up to it, and events that happened thirty years before when the main protagonist, Fran, was a teenager. At times I did find it a little hard to follow the timelines, because they were so disjointed, but this I know is deliberate and was done to add to the feeling of tension and anxiety which permeated the book. It just needs a level of concentration that was just a little of a strain for me at the moment, but I know I would take in my stride and truly appreciate for what it adds to the story at any other time.
This is a book that is powerful, emotional, challenging and full of tension from first page to last. The author is skilled at manipulating all of these elements and this is clear throughout. Unfortunately for me, she does this a little too well and I was just mentally in the wrong place for this book when I read it. I could see glimpses of the humour that I have seen other bloggers refer to within it, but just couldn’t appreciate it fully. Fabulous book, wrong time for me. I know it is one I will put aside and reread when I am in the right mindset for it. I would not want anyone else to be put off reading it though, because this is a wonderful book, and I know the issue was me and my emotional state at time of reading. More emotionally robust readers will love it, I have no doubt.
Ash Mountain is out as an ebook and audiobook, and will be published in paperback on 20 August and you can buy a copy here.
Make sure you check out the rest of the blogs taking part in the tour:
About the Author
Helen FitzGerald is the bestselling author of ten adult and young adult thrillers, including The Donor (2011) and The Cry (2013), which was longlisted for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year, and is now a major drama for BBC1. Her 2019 dark comedy thriller Worst Case Scenario was a Book of the Year in both The Guardian and Daily Telegraph. Helen worked as a criminal justice social worker for over fifteen years. She grew up in Victoria, Australia, and now lives in Glasgow with her husband.