Book Review: Palace of Tears by Julian Leatherdale
This ambitious long book spans three generations and more than a century.
The plot weaves around Adam Fox, the original owner of the Palace, a Blue Mountains hotel/resort of the title, his loves, and his children.
Adam’s granddaughter, Lisa, a photographer, is invited to help out a historian who is researching the details of the Palace. She starts to uncover secrets and mysteries, and realises there is so much she doesn’t know about her mother, the beloved Australian children’s book author Monica Fox, and her family. Monica has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, meaning Lisa is running out of time to gain her mother’s help to piece together the Fox jigsaw before the illness completely takes over.
With a little google research of my own I found that Julian Leatherdale is not only a writer but a photographer and researcher who has worked on such projects as the Australians at War series (Julian, you need to update your Goodreads profile, mate). But does an extensive knowledge of history make you a good fiction writer? Well, yes and no.
My ‘yes’ vote goes to:
The way the actual historical details are used in the novel. Obviously they’ve all been meticulously researched, and they are all completely fascinating. Quite a few are depressing, and it’s very sad to see that we have learnt little and continue to make the same basic mistakes still today. I appreciated the way the historical aspects were included seamlessly. There were no huge information dumps/history lessons, and everything was relevant to the characters and/or plot.
Real life figures, including Dame Nellie Melba and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, were used well and again, in a way that fit into the plot. They were so well interspersed with the fictional characters, in fact, I sometimes wondered who was real and who wasn’t.
The setting is gorgeous — the Blue Mountains, Leura, Katoomba. Its beauty, and the danger that goes along with that, is again used perfectly in harmony with the plot.
The twist near the end. I will readily admit I had no idea and didn’t see it coming at all. So many books I read, the climactic twist is obvious, but this one caught me completely by surprise and I quite enjoyed it.
Which leads me to my ‘no’ factors:
The twist, although there, had not enough build up. I was struggling at one stage to work out how the book was going to end because there seemed to be no resolution I needed to reach, no burning question I had that made me want to rush to the end for the answer. As I said at the top of my review, this is a rather long ambitious book, with many characters, and at about the 3/4 mark I started to struggle with this lack of a page turning tension.
The romance. There are several in the book, and I’m not sure if the writer won me over with any of them. They spring up and he tells me the characters are in love, but I didn’t get a feel for any of them. Fortunately, the book is more of a family saga than a romance so it wasn’t vitally important, but I do think Leatherdale needs to swot on some romances before his next novel.
The three parts. I didn’t understand them at all. There are, as I said, several characters, all related in some way, and all equally important to the novel. We get individually marked chapters with the name of the main character for that chapter, and the year, and it does chop and change regularly. Characters have flashbacks, find letters in attics, etc etc. Each part is not solely about the character that appears in the title of each part. I just didn’t see the point.
Fortunately, I still thoroughly enjoyed the book despite these minor ‘no’ gripes. It should be read simply to expand your knowledge of Australian history, which I thought I had a good grasp on before reading this, and yet I learnt some very interesting details.
A firm 4/5