About the Book:
‘Life isn’t just the breathing part, dear. It’s being here, with you.’
Cate Christie is a drifter, moving restlessly through her carefree youth until tragedy strikes, and her life is changed forever. She flees the city, seeking refuge at her great-aunt Ida’s farm in the wheat fields of Western Australia. There she finds Henry, a swagman whose dark eyes and heavy heart hold secrets he’s not willing to share. When Ida is no longer able to go on, Cate and Henry are put to the ultimate test. Together they must embrace the true meaning of family, community and love so they can lay their own ghosts to rest.
The Drifter is a moving and highly original story from an exciting new voice in rural writing, about what it takes to make a good life and a good death – and how to capture the magic in between.
As I sift through my thoughts and prepare to write this review, I feel as though I might end up having to put a disclaimer at the top, something along the lines of:
Warning – this review may be longer than the topic novel.
That’s how much I loved this story.
Cate Christie, our main character in The Drifter, was not someone I could initially relate to. A party girl, drifting aimlessly from job to job, her life in the city was concerned with the here and the now; fun and frivolity, consequences be damned. You only live once, so party like there’s no tomorrow, dance like nobody’s watching, celebrate the moment, etc. etc. A life like that is not sustainable though and reality, when it bites, bites hard, leaving a lasting impression. While I couldn’t relate to Cate the party girl, wounded Cate was a different matter. She crawled into my heart straight away and I think she’s still in there.
Cate hides herself behind witty banter and sarcastic introspection. She has a significant lack of regard for her own worth and finds the appreciation of others difficult to accept. She excels at pretending and rejects emotional connection. When she lands on her great-aunt Ida’s doorstep, what she expects to find is vastly different to what she actually encounters. Ida is failing in health as her age advances. She’s overwhelmed by her farm but unwilling to let it go. For Ida, Cate’s arrival is a timely blessing. And then there’s the ghost in the old homestead, who turns out to be another wounded drifter, ‘swagman Henry’, who is neither a swagman or actually named Henry, but that’s beside the point. These three form a connection that becomes impenetrable, a little family unit that gives each of them exactly what they need. It’s utterly beautiful and I alternated between laughing and crying for the entire novel.
The story of why Cate is in her current predicament unfolds in pieces. We learn snippets of her reckless lifestyle along the way, but we also see the strong bond of genuine friendship that existed between her and her best friend, lending weight to her grief and self recrimination. These memories also countered Cate’s more brittle moments, casting a light on her motivations for self destruction. From these memories, I was left with a hollow feeling of despair; so many lives are lost so often as a result of reckless living, taking risks that just aren’t worth it, but have almost become a standard by product of youthful invulnerability. Casting a light on this with such sharp realism was a winning aspect of this novel for me.
Henry remains more of a mystery throughout, but despite his unknown past, you get a sense very early on that he’s a keeper. There’s a depth to him that transcends his tragedy, but like Cate, he needs time and trust. The connection between these two just sparked from the get go, and I loved their banter. Aided with the matchmaking skills of a smart old dog and an even smarter old lady, well, resistance was probably futile, but they gave it a good whirl. The Drifter is more of a love story than a romance to my mind, a slow build between two people who think they aren’t worthy of living themselves yet reject that notion in each other.
Ida was a real treasure. Her body was failing her but her mind most certainly wasn’t. I hated seeing her reduced to the status of a small child but could see the truth in it; how often this must happen. Who are we to choose how another person lives, or even dictate how that person should die? I appreciated Anthea casting a light onto this tricky family dynamic with such informed sensitivity. Dismissal of the elderly by virtue of them being elderly is just not good enough, yet its prevalence stands. The respect that Cate had for Ida was truly remarkable and really lifted me. It also made me miss both of my grandmothers quite fiercely.
What else did I love about this novel? The small country community atmosphere, which was so authentic. The endless cups of tea, cakes and biscuits – especially that last pot of tea, I wept while they drank that one! Henry’s muscles. Mack the dog. Ida’s sweet reminiscing about Jack. The mental image of Henry showering with a garden hose (see note about Henry’s muscles above). Cate’s instinctive kindness and her efforts at fitting into the community and living on the farm. Ida’s love for Cate. That knitted jumper – this one really had me! The small ways in which we touch each other’s lives for the better. The many ways in which we demonstrate how much we love each other. And then there’s that all-purpose culinary delight, Depression Surprise, a tasty way to make use of your extra rabbits. Surprisingly though, no recipe in the back of the book…
The Drifter is an amalgamation of a heartfelt story with terrific characters in a great setting. Fortunately for me, Anthea’s next release, The Cowgirl, is just around the corner and it promises another wonderful rural journey for its readers. Aren’t we the lucky ones?!
The Drifter is published by Penguin Random House Australia.
About the Author:
Anthea Hodgson is a country girl from the WA wheat belt. She worked as a radio producer in WA, NSW and Queensland before returning to WA, where she lives with her husband and two children.