On a Bright Hillside in Paradise
by Annette Higgs
(Reviewed by Katie Lewis).
On a Bright Hillside in Paradise by Annette Higgs (Penguin, 2023) follows the Hatton family, convict descendants living in the Tasmanian bush on a farm called Paradise in the 1870s. The story centres around the arrival of two strangers into their midst, both evangelical preachers from outside Tasmania. The strangers’ arrival causes quite the stir within the tight-knit community as they go from house to house conducting revivals and converting the locals, and the Hatton family start to question long held beliefs about their past and their future.
I was completely drawn in by this book. Tasmania in the late 1800s is not a setting I’ve read much about, and I really loved being transported to the rough but beautiful farm of Paradise. The story is told through the perspectives of five different members of the Hatton family, following each character through roughly the same time period.
As we move from one character’s perspective to the next, we learn more and more about their lives and their reactions to the arrival of the evangelists. We see the same events through five very different perspectives and, rather than being repetitive, it was nuanced and so unique. I loved how each new perspective added more and more to the story, carefully and delicately layering details on top of each other. It was cleverly done.
I also love when the landscape becomes a character in a story and the author does it so well in this book. You can feel the connection she has to this place and its history, and I loved being able to feel that through this story. It was also impeccably researched.
This is a quiet but tender book. It was a little melancholy but also eerily beautiful, and I loved how the author highlighted the beauty in the ordinary lives of the Hatton family. The more I learned about this family, the more I found myself sinking into their world. I could smell the gum trees, I could hear the water of the Dasher, and I could feel the cold wind blowing in from the mountain. The writing was evocative and immersive, without being overly flowery, and dialogue felt natural and genuine. I loved the way the author carefully crafted the characters and slowly brought them to life. They felt so real. I’ll be thinking about this family for a long time to come.
On a Bright Hillside in Paradise was an extremely enjoyable read and I would definitely recommend, especially to readers who enjoy character-driven historical fiction.
Katie Lewis as a prolific bookstagrammer and you can find more of her reviews on Instagram @katie.reads.things
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