I started reading Evergreen Falls late one night after finishing another book, foolishly believing I would read a few pages, get a sense of the novel then fall asleep… but Kimberely Freeman and her tale of the beautiful Violet and introvert Lauren had other plans that involved late nights and some anti-social behaviour as I simply had to finish this fabulous book.
Evergreen Falls is a dual narrative in that it tells the story of two different women in two different times but in the one place. It opens with a vignette of tragedy in the Blue Mountains, in 1926, setting the scene for what is about to unfold. Fast-forward to current times and we meet Lauren Beck, a 30-year-old woman who, due to heartbreaking family circumstances, has led a sheltered life in Tasmania. When her section of the novel opens, she’s working at a coffee shop in the Blue Mountains, discovering what it’s like to be independent, hold down a job and, much to her delighted surprise, attract the attention of a dashing architect, Tomas, who has come over from Denmark to head up a renovation project on the nearby resort, the hotel, Evergreen Spa.
It’s while exploring parts of the building with Tomas that Lauren happens upon a cache of extraordinarily passionate and candid love letters from someone called SHB to a young woman he so evidently adores and desires. Captivated by the romance and the story behind these, Lauren begins to investigate, all the time aware that love may be slowly blossoming for her.
The reader is then taken back to 1926 and we follow the adventures of the gorgeous and lively Violet Armstrong who, after losing her job in a department store in Sydney is offered work at the very posh Evergreen Spa. With a dependent and ailing mother, Violet leaps at the chance to work in such an exceptional place, but little does she know that her time at the resort will change not only her life, but also that of everyone she encounters that season with tragic and lasting consequences.
The novel then moves back and forth between the two women and the secrets they seek to keep and uncover, drawing parallels between their lives and their differences, exposing their strengths and flaws and how the choices of the past and present will impact upon their futures.
Evergreen Falls is such a page-turner. Freeman evokes both eras
beautifully and presents us with such rich and fully-rounded characters. Class and other differences are explored, as are the complexities of families and the bonds that bind us whether we like it or not. Bigotry and assumptions about others – made on the basis of ignorance and fear – are exposed as damaging, but in this novel they also become the lynchpin through which more generous characters facilitate forgiveness, redemption and understanding.
Setting is so important in this book and the Blue Mountains outside of Sydney are wonderfully evoked, in all their haunting misty-blue greenness
replete with majestic gums, soaring rock formations and tumbling waters as well as the views into forever. Having spent a great deal of my childhood in the Blue Mountains (picking blackberries and searching for fairies with my grandmother and swimming in isolated rock pools), I walked the paths and stood once again on the viewing platform gazing towards the horizon and breathing in that crisp, clean air alongside the characters. Evergreen Spa, to me a thinly disguised Hydro Majestic Hotel, was also a place I inhabited as I read. I sat in the dining room, felt the plush carpet beneath my feet, saw the staff in their uniforms and respected the wishes of the indomitable but kind Miss Zander. The hotel (and mountains) is as much a character as any person and it’s fitting that the novel moves from the period in which it was at its peak to the start of its restoration.
For that is what the novel is also about – restoration – not
always in ways that are anticipated or expected but for the main characters this is what is offered and it’s up to them how and with whom they find it.
This was a simply wonderful novel that kept me up for a couple of nights, meant I was lousy company during the day, and that I was completely distracted until I reached the end… then, of course, as with any great book, I was bereft I’d finished. I shed a few tears, which is testimony to the way in which I was caught up in the emotional lives of the characters.
This is fabulous escapism, and I cannot recommend it enough. For those who love mystery, romance, history, and the tangled web of relationships, as well as some fantastic story-telling, this is the book for you.