Book Review: Desire Lines by Felicity Volk

Desire Lines…

About the Book:

Arctic Circle, 2012. On a lightless day at the end of the polar winter, landscape architect Evie Waddell finds herself exhuming the past as she buries Australian seeds in a frozen mountain vault – insurance against catastrophe.

Molong, 1953. Catastrophe is all seven-year-old Paddy O’Connor has known. Shipped from institutional care in London to an Australian farm school, his world is a shadowy place where lies scaffold fragile truths and painful memories. To Paddy’s south in Canberra, young Evie is safe in her family’s embrace, yet soon learns there are some paths from which you can’t turn back; impulses and threats that she only half understands but seems to have known forever.

Blue Mountains, 1962. From their first meeting as teenagers at a country market, Paddy and Evie grow a compulsive, unconventional love that spans decades, taking them in directions neither could have foreseen.

Set against the uneasy relationship society has with its own truth-telling in history, war and politics, DESIRE LINES is an epic story of love and the lies we tell ourselves to survive – and a reminder that even truths which seem lost forever can find their way home.

My Thoughts:

This is one of those novels where my feelings are all different shades of grey rather than firmly black or white. There are so many parts of the story that I loved and just as many that I didn’t. But when considered in its entirety, it’s a beautifully written story of love, landscape, and history. It’s also a story of fate and consequence, and while I didn’t necessarily like the two main characters – Paddy and Evie – all of the time, I was deeply invested in their journeys, both separately and together. Their story was a vivid example of how love can be both selfish and selfless at the same time.

At the core of this novel is the tragedy of migrant orphans – I don’t even know if this is the correct term for children sent from institutions in Britain to Australia during the mid-20th century, especially given that many of them weren’t even orphans, but rather given up by their parents as a by-product of poverty. While on the one hand, I couldn’t believe that Paddy’s mother would agree to giving him away, it also came as no surprise to discover later that despite how unpleasant and grim his life was as an ‘orphan’, it was far better than what it would have been if he’d stayed in his family home. How grim is that? The best of the worst pick. And yet it stained him permanently, so much so, that no matter how successful he became professionally, personally, he was a mess.

Overall, Paddy’s story interested me a whole lot more than Evie’s, although I did like her marginally more than Paddy, particularly as the novel progressed. Evie’s story followed a familiar narrative, that of the woman who is trying to balance career with family, desire with obligation. I didn’t often approve of her choices and at times I even judged her harshly for them, but in the end, I developed a well of empathy for her that was sustained throughout the story until the end. I was rather conflicted about these two throughout the whole novel, see-sawing between them depending on what they did next and how it made me feel. But I will point out one thing: I did feel a lot, and that is always a sign of a good book.

There is a lot to appreciate within this novel and those who enjoy literary historical fiction won’t regret adding it to their reading lists.


Thanks is extended to Hachette Australia for providing me with a copy of Desire Lines for review.

About the Author:

Felicity Volk studied English literature and law at the University of Queensland before joining Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). After diplomatic postings in Bangladesh and Laos, and following the birth of her two daughters, she began writing for publication while continuing to work at DFAT. An award-winning writer of short stories, her first novel, Lightning, was described as ‘astonishing … a propensity of storytelling talent, a bolt of brilliance’. Felicity lives in Canberra, dividing her time between the world of foreign policy, writing, painting murals, tending the family menagerie and a forbearing garden and the gentle contemplations offered by a soothing pot of tea.

Desire Lines
Published by Hachette Australia
Released 25th February 2020

14 thoughts on “Book Review: Desire Lines by Felicity Volk

    • It was a tricky one, this one. The book was about so much more than infidelity but then it was also the foundation of the relationship between the two leads. As is always the way, one character gives up more, and also suffers more.


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