For thirty-three years, Angela Gillespie has faithfully sent out her Christmas letter to friends and family around the year. Titled “Hello from the Gillespies,” it has always been full of good news from their beautiful homestead in the Australian Outback.
But this year, Angela can’t bring herself to write the usual cheerful letter because there’s been very little cheer to speak of. Her husband is having difficulty keeping things together on the farm. Her thirty-two-year-old twin daughters have come back home after suffering embarrassing career meltdowns. Her third daughter is deep in debt having failed at yet another job. And her ten-year-old-son spends all of his time talking to his imaginary friend.
And so Angela decides to write a letter full of the truth, not holding back anything. Of course, it’s purely a cathartic exercise, she doesn’t actually plan to send it out. But it does get sent and it results in fracturing the family. But when Angela is in an accident and suffers from amnesia, the family must put their hurt aside and pull together to bring Angela back to them.
Hello From the Gillespies, by Monica McInerney, is a moving novel about the highs and lows of families and relationships. This is her tenth novel, the first I have read, and is a beautiful family novel set in a stunning place.
I loved the premise of this novel. We’ve all seen those Christmas letters, the ones that seem too good to be true, the ones that are full of good news but not the bad. Or we’ve sat down to write one and wondered just how much should be shared. What if someone writes one full of the truth, every difficult bit of it?
I really liked the Gillespie family. Angela was an absolutely endearing character, faithful and caring but going through a most difficult time. The relationship between Angela and her husband Nick felt very real. Though I have not been married for as long as they have, I know that marriage goes through its ups and downs and the rift in their relationship seemed very truthful. I enjoyed the stories of all of the children, though I felt like the daughters were much younger than they were supposed to be based on their behaviour.
While I loved the plot, it is the development of the plot that keeps this book from being an absolute smash for me. The book is a thick one, it comes in at 606 pages. And there were a few points, especially in the first half that I felt could have been omitted as they didn't need to be as drawn out as they were. If this had happened, I probably would have sailed through the book but instead I found myself reading a bit, putting it down for quite a while, then coming back to it only to read a little bit more. But that was the first half. I breezed through the second half in two days because I couldn’t put the book down.
To me, one of the biggest stars of the book was the setting. Taking place in the Australian Outback, the Gillespie family home is set on a land that is rich in beauty and history. As a city-dweller my whole life, I was drawn into the descriptions of a life lived in your own place, surrounded by nature rather than people. I only know the Outback through pictures, but the descriptions in this book were so vivid, I felt like I was there.
Overall this was an enjoyable novel about the difficulties of marriage, the ups and downs of family life, and the love that holds it all together. This book definitely makes me want to seek out McInerney’s other work. If like me you find the first part of the book slow-going, stick with it. You will be moved and touched by this lovely story.
I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher through NetGalley. The opinions expressed above are my own.