Have you ever heard of tree burials? I found the central tenet of arborglyphs utterly intriguing in Inga Simpson’s latest novel ‘Where the Trees Were’. Arborglyphs are carvings etched into living wood. The story centres around a grove of ancient trees situated on Jayne’s family farm. It tells the story of Jayne; from her childhood growing up in a rural, agricultural community to her work as an adult in art conservation in Canberra.
‘Where the Trees Were’ is contemporary fiction and will appeal to those who are open to looking at the history and use of land from a broad perspective.
The story flicks between Jayne as a child growing up in the Australian bush and the adult Jayne becomes; a public servant willing to risk it all to return arborglyphs to their rightful owners. Arborglyph derives from the Latin ‘arbor’ – tree and the Greek ‘glyph’ – carving. It is an ancient tradition and found in civilisations throughout history. Aboriginal people of Australia have used tree carvings as tomb stones for their dead and such sites are considered sacred.
A tragic childhood accident shapes the person Jayne becomes; someone living with guilt and trying their best to overcome the mistakes of childhood. Adult Jayne tries to put the past right and in doing so, risks her career and relationship with her lover, Sarah.
The story which I found slightly disjointed at the beginning, was a thought provoking and interesting read. Jayne is a well-developed character and readers will be heavily invested in her journey. I especially enjoyed her cycling and her love of the Tour de France.
Simpson ponders agricultural practices, land rights, the intricacies of rural communities, life as a public servant and art history and conservation. I enjoyed the idea of Jayne being an art thief struggling to make retribution for the past.
If you have a love of the land, this read will suit you. It will give fresh insights into life on the land; where we have been and where we are going. The descriptors of the Lachlan River are visually strong and I dare you not to feel the breeze sweep over your face as you stare into the ancient grove of trees on Jayne’s family farm.
Thank you again to Hachette for providing me with this beautifully written book. Highly recommended for lovers of contemporary Australian fiction.