The official website of West Australian writer, Emily Paull. Emily writes short stories and historical fiction, and is the author of Well-Behaved Women (Margaret River Press, 2019.) Debut novel The Dreamers to be publihsed March 2025 by Fremantle Press.
Many a reader has been seduced by a beautiful cover and this book is as good as any. The vintage portrait on the front indicates yet another charming historical romance/ mystery ala some of my favourites- Kate Morton and Margaret Atwood. And to compare this novel to those wouldn't be wrong per se. While readers of Kate Morton will easily slip into the multi-chronological, multi-viewpoint historical narrative, I think perhaps readers of Margaret Atwood would find the structure of the novel somewhat clumsy and accidental, and here's why.
This novel is divided into five parts, each told from the point of view of a different character; Nick (female), Daisy, Helena, Hughes and Ed. It centres around a post world war two setting in the East Coast of America in which a family with a lot of secrets slowly comes unravelled. Tiger House on an island which I think is in Cape Cod, is a picture of affluence. This is a place where children in whites play tennis, where dinner parties happen every single week, and where pretty much everyone has a Portuguese maid and a mistress. Then, one day in the mid 1950s, Ed and Daisy find one of their neighbours' Portuguese maids murdered in a back woods hiding spot, and everything changes. As the book says towards its closing scenes, like for the Kennedy's, the Derringers and the Lewis's are cursed from the moment that Elena Nunes' body is discovered. But the mystery of who killed Elena is not the central part of the story- in fact, it doesn't happen until well into the second part of the book, making the first part- Nick's- somewhat disconnected, and a lot more slow moving than the rest. It reminds me of something creative writing teachers have often tried to ram down my throat; in writing, sometimes it is necessary to discover what the real story is. Sometimes it's not what you first intend. You should throw out the first three paragraphs, pages or even chapters, because they are your warm up. While the character building in Nick's section made her a very relatable character, they served no real purpose for my understanding of the rest of the story. In fact, they just didn't seem to fit with it at all.
The next four sections were extremely enjoyable. Klaussmann's characters are larger than life. While at times it is possible to see the deus ex machina at work- plot points such as why Avery is a terrible husband and the truth about Ed seeming to have been decided on at a later point in the writing process- it would not be possible to call this an unoriginal novel. This is a work teeming with life and creativity, and a sensitivity to the human condition. Klaussmann's strengths lie in her ability to explore the complexities of our relationships to those closest to us, and to most of all show the highlights as well as the low. Her characters unapologetically behave badly and this makes them real to me. There may be no happy endings for some, but it seems right rather than forced.
Another strength lies in the imagery. I can imagine the lazy summer homes lined up on the island, the music, the heat of the night, the clothes, the boathouse, the hairstyles, the cars.
I encourage any reader of this book to persevere past the potential drudgery of section one and read on, because you will be rewarded with one of the most colourful historical fiction debuts that I have seen, one which is cinematic in scope and plays out in the imagination like a film reel. I could see this being a wonderful artistic film one day and I hope someone has the smarts to make it.