A sweeping tale of love, war and a house of secrets for fans of historical fiction.
1939: On the eve of war, young English heiress Grace Grey travels from London to the wilderness of Tasmania. Coaxed out of her shell by the attentions of her Irish neighbour, Daniel - Grace finally learns to live. But when Australian forces are called to the frontline, and Daniel with them, he leaves behind a devastating secret which will forever bind them together.
1975: Artist Willow Hawkins, and her new husband, Ben, can't believe their luck when an anonymous benefactor leaves them a house on the remote Tasmanian coast. Confused and delighted, they set out to unmask Towerhurst's previous owner - unwittingly altering the course of their lives.
2004: Libby Andrews has always been sheltered from the truth behind her father Ben's death. When she travels to London and discovers a faded photograph, a long-buried memory is unlocked, and she begins to follow an investigation that Ben could never complete. But will she realise that some secrets are best left buried . . .?
The Moon Gate is Amanda Geard's second novel and, like her first, The Midnight House, which is a Richard and Judy Book Club pick, it encompasses family secrets, the second world war, and significant places from the past.
The overall structure of The Moon Gate is comprised of three timelines, which tell the stories of three generations of women from 1939, 1975, and 2004, who are all connected in some way to a house in Tasmania and the drama that took place there.
I enjoyed the constant movement back and forth across the decades and thought the storylines were deftly woven together. Amanda used imagery, objects, and themes to link each timeline, so I always had a clear sense of where I was in the story. The past resonated with the present in ways that were moving and added depth.
The characters were intriguing and I loved the build-up of suspense as each storyline progressed. I was drawn to Libby, in the present day, who goes to London to discover more about her past. The poignancy of her grief and her quest to answer the questions that had been on her mind for so long meant that I was really rooting for her. I enjoyed seeing her develop in confidence and in her personal life.
Grace had my sympathy from the very beginning. It was fascinating to see her step out from under the shadow of others and carve her own place in Tasmania. The twists and turns of her story, especially the love affair, had me turning the pages late into the night. I also wanted to find out how Grace's story was connected to Libby's and Willow's, and Amanda kept the mystery going right up to the very end.
It was interesting to meet Libby's parents in the 1975 storyline. It gave a fascinating window into a time of promise and new beginnings before Ben's death and bridged the gap between events in 1939 and 2004.
I was completely in awe of how Amanda created such a complex plot, while also bringing to life characters that had depth and agency.
The romance element of a story is something I always look out for. I love seeing how a couple - from any period of history - shape, challenge and support each other as the story progresses.
I really enjoyed the development of Libby's relationship with Sam and how it was linked to her search for clues about her father's past. I also loved the meeting of minds, and later hearts, that characterised Grace's journey with Daniel. The romance between Willow and Ben was tinged with sadness. It was heart-breaking to read how happy they'd been as a couple and to know that Libby had never experienced that because Ben had died before she was born.
In all three storylines, the romance developed the characters and gave a deeper sense of meaning to the events that were happening to and around them.
The setting of each storyline was wonderfully depicted. Amanda has such a skill for making you feel like you're actually there: whether it's a busy London street or the dense, Tasmanian undergrowth. I particularly enjoyed travelling with Grace to Tasmania, and seeing how the landscape and climate, as well as Daniel, played a part in bringing her out of her shell.
The poetry of Banjo Paterson, and how his writing inspired Grace, added another dimension to my understanding of Tasmania. I've never been there but I could picture it in my mind from Amanda's descriptions - the house and its gardens, the sea, and the mines, the vast sprawling forest - it was very evocative.
In summary, I felt like I had been on such a journey after reading this book. The characters stayed in my mind long after I finished it. The end was so satisfying and moving, and such a revelation. I spent a while afterwards thinking back over the story and how the events were connected - it really is incredible how all the details piece together. Amanda is a natural-born storyteller and that shone out from this novel and made it such a pleasure to read.
Also posted as an Amazon Review and on Goodreads.