Ache: a story about grief and love in the aftermath of a fire

Ache Book review

What is this about?: Grief and the many forms it takes, while Annie and her daughter Pip, and the rest of her family on the mountain strive to make sense of the fire that tore through their town and ruined so many lives.

What else is this about: A crumbling marriage, PTSD and a slew of other relationships that have fractured under the weight of the fire.

Blurb: A year ago, a devastating bushfire ripped Annie’s world apart – killing her grandmother, traumatising her young daughter and leaving her mother’s home in the mountains half destroyed. Annie fled back to the city, but the mountain continues to haunt her. Now, drawn by a call for help from her uncle, she’s going back to the place she loves most in the world, to try to heal herself, her marriage, her daughter and her mother.
A heart-wrenching, tender and lovely novel about loss, grief and regeneration, Ache is not only a story of how we can be broken, but how we can put ourselves back together.

Stars: 3.5/5

Ache is delicate, as if the barest wind would break the threads holding her words together. It’s what grief is like I think, when everything is fragile and anything can break this new reality you find yourself in after you experience a loss.

In this case, Jones takes on the most devastating aspects of life in Australia: Fire.

Fire

A year before the book opens, a fire rages through her home town, and as the book progresses we learn of an “iconic” photo that was taken on the day of Annie and her daughter Pip on a horse. The picture might represent the town and the fire, but all Annie can think of is loss – most importantly, the loss of her grandmother, Gladys.

Slowly but surely Jones draws a picture of this family, of their love for Gladys – Annie, her mother Susan and Len, her uncle. They are the three closest to Gladys and they are all mourning her loss differently. And Pip herself is acting out, wetting the bed and trying to deal with her grief and PTSD any way she can. That’s not to say she isn’t getting on Annie’s last nerve, and here Jones doesn’t shy away from hard parts that come with grief.

Interestingly, she also includes the man who started the fire – an ex-boyfriend of Annie’s, with whom she still feels she loves. I’m not entirely sure what to think about this addition. Annie’s relationship with her husband Tom was far more interesting to me, and I wanted more of seeing them try to navigate this minefield between them.

Tom wasn’t there with her and Pip in the fire, he had remained at their home in the city.  In the end I chose to think of Tom as angry, impotent even for not being able to help the two women in his life when they needed it the most. He almost lost them and he wasn’t there. I also think he and Annie don’t really know how to help each other, which is why they’re so separate for much of this book. And the thing is, that’s a part of grief too. Sometimes you just need the space.

Alex, however is a more complicated issue. Did Annie want to remember simpler times, when he wasn’t the man that devastated their town? That caused the fire that ruined so many lives? Is that how she was dealing with it? I think that was the most sensible reason I could come up with to make sense of Alex.

That said, he is part of their town, the fabric of the life there and there was a time the book tells us that he was highly regarded. I did wonder about a book from his POV, when a simple, thoughtless but innocent act causes such devastation – how do you make sense of that?

In the end, this is an ordinary town who is going through an extraordinarily terrible event. Annie is our view into the people left behind, the ones trying to rebuild in some way and looking for signs of life in an amongst the charred remains of their lives. Jones’ writing is evocative, drawing you into this town, making you feel the grief of Len who walks the land looking for the animals suffering, who should by all accounts be dead and taking it upon himself to do that, to take that action. Or Susan, who sits where her mother’s body lies under rubble and waits for her to be pulled out.

Heart-rending, fragile and you should read it.

7 Comments

  • Angela says:

    Oh wow, this sounds so heart-breaking. I think you described it perfectly when you said fragile. It sounds like it would perfectly describe the feelings of any person affected by some disaster.

    • Verushka says:

      It was, and such a realistic description of grief like this — how people lash out, and say horrible things when they’re so caught up in their loss.

  • divabooknerd says:

    I’m surprised that we haven’t had more fictional Australian novels that surround natural disasters like flood and fire, both are such a big part of our fear depending on what part of the country you’re in. It reminds me of the Black Saturday fires, such a devastating loss of life. The choking smoke for weeks was a grim reminder of how much others had loss. Brilliant review Verushka, so glad you were able to enjoy it <3

    • Verushka says:

      I was thinking exactly that through the entire book — it’s such a big part of our lives comes summer after all. God, I still remember the Black Saturday fires — the destruction it caused was mindboggling. I liked this one because the characters were flawed, and frustrating and grieving. (and TY!)

  • This sounds like a pretty gut-wrenching read. Definitely had me wondering how I would react if I were in the situation. Great review!

    • Verushka says:

      It was indeed! Good question — it’s hard to figure how grief like this affects people you know?

  • It sounds like the author did a wonderful job of portraying the characters emotions and loss. Thanks for sharing 🙂

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