I hadn’t yet read Wildflower Hill when I suggested it to my book group, so it was a huge relief when I read it and really enjoyed it. And it was even better when the women in the book group wrote in to say they were looking forward to discussing the book because they loved it! Phew. With that tension out-of-the-way, all I had to do was organize a dinner party for 8-10 high-powered, intelligent, Michelin Star savvy women. Not a problem, right?
I actually had virtually zero stress (so what’s that? 2%?) about being hostess. Wildflower Hill, written by Kimberley Freeman, is set both in London and on a sheep farm in Australia, so I had a built-in theme. I picked up a Shepherd’s Pie (get it? Sheep farm?) from The Pie Store. While there, I picked up some Marmite as a novelty nod to the English/Australian setting. I also settled on several bottles of Australian reds and whites for the evening. At Gina’s Bakery I found some lovely chocolate dipped macaroons, which the English teacher in me could have connected to one of the love stories in the novel, but I thought that might be pushing it. My understanding husband came home early to show the kids Thumbelina (probably one of the five WORST animated films ever) on the computer. Slice up some veggies, whip up some deviled eggs, and serve Trader Joe’s edamame hummus. And Voila! Book Group Dinner Party!
After chatting about Match.com and switching to eHarmony, and after catching up with family and work and who had that awful cold and whatnot, we got down to talking about the book.
Wildflower Hill intertwines two very different stories. One story begins in 1929; Beattie, a young woman in Glasgow, gets into “trouble” and runs away to Australia with her lover to have the baby. The other tale is about a modern-day Prima Ballerina in London, Emma – who is also the beloved granddaughter of Beattie. Emma returns to Australia after an injury cuts short her career. Almost uniformly, we agreed that the grandmother’s story – Beattie’s story – was more compelling and sympathetic than Emma’s modern-day story. Most of us found Emma too self-involved and flighty to be relatable. Beattie’s character had a certain amount of chutzpah and depth that Emma’s character lacked. Still, we liked the combination of the two stories, and the emerging discovery of how they connected.
I’ll admit that a few chapters in, I started skipping Emma’s chapters and read straight through Beattie’s story. Is that cheating? It was more about loving one story rather than disliking another. I mean, I went back and read the whole novel afterwards, but I really had to know how Beattie’s story ended. And knowing how Beattie’s saga ended helped me appreciate Emma’s storyline.
Some aspects of Beattie’s story that the entire group found particularly interesting were the ways in which race and class figured into the story. The storyline of an interracial love was interesting, even if it didn’t ring completely authentic at times. And the development of the intense love Beattie has for her daughter Lucy, and how that guided her decisions, was compelling as well. Several scenes were heartbreaking – particularly because everyone in the book group is a mother, and some of the events involve painful separation and real-life dilemmas. The group was divided on whether Beattie’s decision to stay away from her daughter for decades could be believed. I disagreed with the rest of the group, bringing up the shame that Beattie felt and the later desire to protect her other two children. Everything from alcohol abuse to religious influence to racism to child abduction to shame about class and parenting issues converge in this one woman’s story. And yet the character is able to carry the story and even make the reader feel like it’s uplifting.
Where Emma’s story was concerned, the main complaint from the group was that it seemed formulaic. A prima ballerina is injured, falls into a mysterious inheritance, meets a local boy, and eventually discovers love and her true self. Once she lays eyes on her future lover, all the story’s events pretty much unfold into a neat path towards a joyful ending. However, some scenes stood out. A few of us related to a dinner party scene in which Emma realizes how much she has changed. And the forced change of career also felt familiar to those of us who had made varying career decisions once becoming parents. (I think I may have just compared parenthood to a knee-injury. Oops.) Two group members with dance experience were a little more forgiving of Emma’s self-absorption and her slow path to personal growth. And by the end of the story, she’s really a likable character, and that her grandmother Beattie loved her so much spoke well for her.
In the end, every member said she’d recommend Wildflower Hill as a really great vacation choice or uplifting novel. One member said it was the perfect “beach read” and still another said it was a relief to read something with definitive female characters who make recognizable choices and survive true dilemmas. I found it a quick, absorbing read – the kind you wish had taken a little longer.
Thank you to Simon & Schuster for donating copies of Wildflower Hill to enjoy and review. All the opinions about the book are unadulterated and straight from the highly opinionated sources. Buy it locally!