New Release Book Review: The Orchardist’s Daughter by Karen Viggers

The Orchardist’s Daughter…

About the Book:

A story of freedom, forgiveness and finding the strength to break free. International bestselling writer Karen Viggers returns to remote Tasmania, the setting of her most popular novel The Lightkeeper’s Wife.

Sixteen-year-old Mikaela has grown up isolated and home-schooled on an apple orchard in south-eastern Tasmania, until an unexpected event shatters her family. Eighteen months later, she and her older brother Kurt are running a small business in a timber town. Miki longs to make connections and spend more time in her beloved forest, but she is kept a virtual prisoner by Kurt, who leads a secret life of his own.

When Miki meets Leon, another outsider, things slowly begin to change. But the power to stand up for yourself must come from within. And Miki has to fight to uncover the truth of her past and discover her strength and spirit.

Set in the old-growth eucalypt forests and vast rugged mountains of southern Tasmania, The Orchardist’s Daughter is an uplifting story about friendship, resilience and finding the courage to break free.

My Thoughts:

This is one novel that has been worth the wait and anticipation. The Orchardist’s Daughter is a study on bullying and its insidious transition into domestic violence. Set against the backdrop of a town divided, logger versus conservationist, the old growth forests of Tasmania and the disease afflicted Tasmanian devils give evidence to the effects that humans have had on this once pristine environment. The main characters that drive this story are Leon, Miki, and Max. Leon is new to town, a park ranger who comes from a long family line of loggers. He’s instantly regarded with suspicion, nicknamed “Parkie” and subjected to bullying from some of the local loggers. Max is his neighbour, a 10 year old boy who feels as though he can never measure up to his father’s expectations, relentlessly bullied by an older boy who just happens to be the police sergeant’s son. Miki, 18 years old, is kept prisoner by her brother Kurt, forced to work in their takeaway business for nothing, locked in the house, not allowed to even step foot out of the front door of their shop, much less talk to customers. The constraint begins to wear thin, and she starts to sneak out when Kurt is not home, getting a taste of life and a growing yearning to be free. The lives of these three people intersect and the growing tension within the town begins to mirror events within their own lives.

‘But there was something off-beat about Miki. She was young but old at the same time, shy but direct, surprisingly observant. She’d been home-schooled – perhaps that was why she was a bit odd. Maybe she’d spent time watching birds because she hadn’t had other children to play with.’

The characterisation within this novel is excellent. Three very different people drive the narrative, but there are all of these extra characters that come to life on the page as well. To me, it was as though the author has framed Leon as a sort of agent of agitation upon the town. He’s an outsider who moves in and observes what’s going on, noticing all of these really bad things that people are turning a blind eye to. This is a novel that gets your mind churning, stirring up all of these ideas that can be funnelled down into a single question: At what point does abuse become everyone’s business? In the case of Miki, everyone was quietly talking to each other about Kurt treating her badly and locking her in, yet very few people actually reached out to Miki to offer support. In the case of Liz, who was very obviously being beaten by her husband, no one stood up for Liz, not even the police. Jaden, the boy who was bullying Max, was observed regularly harassing and physically assaulting other kids, yet he was never called out for it. Leon knew his father was hitting his mother, so instead of calling his father out for it, he made sure he was home as much as possible because his father only ever hit his mother when they were at home alone. It’s an uncomfortable reflection, to consider just how much bad behaviour people let slide when something is ‘not their business’.

‘Geraldine had given her this book for a reason: Miki saw that now. Geraldine wanted to give her the world, and she wanted Miki to strive for it.’

For Miki, whose life was extremely limited, books provided a window to the world, but her brother would not allow her to use a library or buy more books, so she only had a few. Geraldine, an intuitive woman who works for the visitor centre, recognises that Miki is in a dire situation and begins to lend her books, strategically selected to help inform and empower Miki, in the hopes that she may become courageous enough to leave her brother. There was this wonderful connection between Miki and each book she read, and she did learn something from each one, about herself and her own life within the context of what she was missing out on. Kurt, Miki’s brother, was a real piece of work. Brought up in a misogynistic household, he treated Miki appallingly, but he was also hideously rude to his customers. There’s this section in the novel where he suffers an illness and I will openly say here that I was crossing my fingers hoping that he would die. He was that awful. Unfortunately, Miki left it too late to really see him for all that he was. Her memories of him from their childhood as the brother who had taught her so many things clouded her judgement and prevented her from taking a stand against his bullying.

The Orchardist’s Daughter is beautifully written, an intersection of nature and humanity, a study of both the good and the bad within people. It’s honest and brutal, gentle and poetic, a real joy to read and linger over.

‘She stood at the end of everything, suspended over nothing but air, looking out across the landscape to smudges of cloud sliding along contours. Even way up here she could hear the roar of the water. It felt like she was on the edge of something much larger than herself. The river brought movement and scale. She could see into its black depths. She wanted to know what was higher up, where the landscape had collected all of this water. What was up in those misty hills? What would it be like to walk there, to struggle through the undergrowth, then climb and climb through the present and the past, to understand what the river and the world were made of?’


Thanks is extended to Allen and Unwin for providing me with a copy of The Orchardist’s Daughter for review.

About the Author:

Born in Melbourne and raised in the Dandenong Ranges riding horses and writing stories, Karen went on to study veterinary science at Melbourne University before working in practice for several years. She completed a PhD in wildlife health, and since then she has worked on a wide range of Australian native animals, including kangaroos. Karen loves landscapes, wild places, people and animals. She is the author of three novels: The Stranding (2008) and the bestselling, The Lightkeeper’s Wife (2011) and The Grass Castle (2014). She lives in Canberra with her husband and two children.

The Orchardist’s Daughter
Published by Allen and Unwin
Released February 2019

13 thoughts on “New Release Book Review: The Orchardist’s Daughter by Karen Viggers

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