I normally don’t give my reviews titles per-se but this review demands one… Two Hundred and Seventy-Four Pages Too Short – a review of A Story of Seven Summers by Hilary Burden.
Categorised as a Memoir, this absolutely wonderful book is a joy. You simply must read it! There. I’ve said it. Wonderful, inspiring, companionable, beautiful.
In good company with Susan Duncan (“Salvation Creek”) and Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows (“Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society”), Hilary Burden invites the reader to join her on an enchanting journey of discovery and reinvention.
The once high-flying London & New York based fashion editor decides she’s had enough of life in the fast lane and returns to her birthplace in rural Tasmania, buying a rundown but liveable property called “The Nun’s House”, a former convent.
Hilary – Hil – takes us gently by the hand as we join her self-discovery. It’s a gentle voyage, unlike the trials and tribulations of Duncan or the fictionalisation of WWII by Barrows. Hil introduces us to a myriad of wonderfully colourful yet real characters, paints vibrant landscapes, all the time allowing our imaginations to create our own images of Karoola and the surrounding districts, both farming and seaside. The spirit, comraderie and yes, love that exudes from the very soul of the countryside and its family is palpable. The attendant recipes that add further colour to this read are delicious and makeable!
And Hil. Well, Hil slowly, graciously loosens the materialistic strings that have played her like a puppet until she’s emerges as a beautifully re-invented completely content woman, deeply aware of how very fortunate she is. Her riches are not easily won, a fact she embraces; rather the effort to reach every milestone on her path are treasured. Hil is thoroughly likeable, without pretense or guile and doesn’t get bogged down in introspection. Instead she uses her wonderful writing talent to convey her daily discoveries – a new plant, a recipe, how not to raise chickens, the vagaries of growing asparagus….it’s all bucolic bliss, without being sickly sweet. Even Barney, the “not mandatory” love interest, is a real bloke. One of those fellas not often found, but salt of the earth without any of the rough edges.
Hil has a quiet wit which she uses to great effect when discussing the use of a hammer. It seems hammers don’t come with instructions. You’re meant to know how to use them – innately. So when her brother helps her build a deck, he has to show her how to use it – to make it work for her. She writes, “Don’t try to force the nail in with your mind.
It’s not a question of intellect. It’s just you and the hammer, and nothing in between. One…two…three…in!” Plain and simple.
And that’s what this book is about. Plain and simple. A life well lived. Less is more. Another day presenting new delights. No bells and whistles. And regrettably, no page 275!
Available now Allen & Unwin RRP$29.99.