A Woman’s Place: A Novel by Lainie Jones

A Woman’s Place: A Novel
by Lainie Jones

Some context as to how I came across this book. As I have mentioned before in another review, I do not usually gravitate toward independently published novels. But as with that previous review, I happened across the opportunity to do so via a FB group I am in which pairs up authors with reviewers. See here for the details of the May 2023 Book Review.

I am not one to pay attention to those one-word reviews you see plastered all over the covers of mass market books: “Captivating”, “Spell-binding”, “Unputdownable!” What is one woman’s tea is another’s poison (isn’t that the saying?) and so I am hesitant to repeat any of those vague, yet complimentary, descriptions here. But the thing is, A Woman’s Place is truly captivating. The paperback is a substantial read at 317 pages; I found myself lost in several chapters at a sitting, finishing the book in two days. It is, indeed, hard to put down. This historical paranormal mystery is riveting to its last page.

Jones does more than weave a gripping story; her prose is well-crafted and the dialogue is vivid, resulting in the creation of tangible, flawed, and very human characters. Jones holds a PhD in creative writing and possesses an academic and literary portfolio which clearly contributes to the historical and literary robustness of A Woman’s Place. This novel is clearly not a “standalone” work in the sense that it is built upon a foundation of years of research, thought, and analysis. What we read in A Woman’s Place is merely the tip of a very large iceberg.

A Woman’s Place is a novel running along the lines of Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing or Melissa Fu’s Peach Blossom Spring as it is a multigenerational tale. It might be appropriate to liken A Woman’s Place to a fictional European settler version of My Place by Sally Morgan, though, of course the latter is biographical and A Woman’s Place is fiction.

The setting of Jones’ novel is rural Australia, in sheep farming country. It revolves around the events at a remote homestead named Barragunyah, a desolate place known by the name given it by its original inhabitants, indigenous aborigines. The novel spans the end of the 19th century through into the late 20th century, capturing the experiences of five generations of women of the family who came to farm the land. There is also another woman who resides on the land, a mysterious presence called only Mary. The novel unfolds the mystery of Mary and the magnetic pull of Barragunyah, as well as revealing how Australia’s and the world’s history comes to affect ordinary Australians, native and settler alike. British imperial history, the tragedy of the World Wars humanity faced in the twentieth century, and changes in women’s rights emerge as central hinges in the novel. There is also a prosopographical aspect to the novel in that the reader is treated to how these large world events actually affect the daily, lived lives of the Barragunyah women.

In many ways, this is a fantastic historical fiction written for a historian. Or perhaps I feel that way because I am one, and because Australian colonial and post-colonial history, being adjacent to Southeast Asian history of the same period, is something I have an interest in on both a professional and personal level. I think American audiences will find both novel elements and familiarity in these pages. The bond between mothers and daughters, humans and the land we inhabit and shape (and which shapes us), and our selves and our place in the movement of time and history are universal experiences, but American readers will also find themselves introduced to Australian history and experiences.

The novel also has an intriguing mystery embedded in it. As each generation faces the turbulent events of their age, Barragunyah and Mary are there, watching and waiting — though it is unclear what for. This is where the paranormal element emerges. In this way, A Woman’s Place reminds of me of Simone St James’s supernaturally tinged novels, The Haunting of Maddy Clare or The Sun Down Motel. Like many paranormal mysteries, Jones’ A Woman’s Place revolves around an unspoken crime, one grounded and inescapable in Australian history. Jones does a fantastic job of revealing the root of this crime without giving it away, tantalizingly allowing the reader’s own imagination to make sense of the darkness where Mary resides. On that point, I wish Jones had delved more deeply into the aboriginal perspectives on Barragunyah; I am left wanting a sequel or a prequel or the “other side” of the story, as it were. Barragunyah is haunting; as a reader I feel just as deeply connected to this place as the Larson women.

That is a good thing, to be left wanting more.

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of this independently published novel, you can find it on Amazon here. At present, it is priced at $7.49 for the ebook Kindle version and $18.99 for the paperback print.

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