I have really loved Frew’s last two books, Hope Farm and Islands so I knew I just had to get Wildflowers.
Like the others, Wildflowers is a story of family and in this case, the relationship and challenges of three sisters. Meg is the oldest, followed a year later by Nina and then four years after is Amber.
The story is largely centred around Nina and the affect on her by Amber, with her addiction and Meg who has an overwhelming need to fix and nurture Amber. When Meg decides that she and Nina need to perform an intervention on Amber, they whisk her younger sister away to a remote far north Queensland house. It’s here that good intentions slide and their relationship is tested.
Told from Nina’s point of view, its her gaze at her sisters and her largely ineffectual parents that gives us perspective. From the opening, it’s clear that Nina who has packed up her belongings in boxes, not showering, or eating properly, is in the one who is really in trouble.
Nina reflects on her own life, her sexual life of disappointments, her inability to voice her thoughts or even her ability to function. As her state of mind deteriorates before and after the intervention she slides into a space where no-one notices her crisis.
The sisters all perform and live in their assigned roles from childhood. “Meg, ten, is the Good One, and Nina, nine is the Forgetful One, and Amber, little Bam, only five is the Wild One, a puppy, a seal cub.” Often labelling children with their designated role means they wear it for life. Frew explores the roles of the sisters each fractured within the family.
Nina is a dislocated observer trying to make some meaning of her life as well as of her her family and her sisters as she reflects on what happened in QLD five years earlier. She is struck with an inertia and apathy yet unable to vocalise and stop Meg who is hellbent on fixing Amber. Nina struggles with the morals of what is going on but her weakness paralyses her from taking any action. She comes face to face with understanding who her sisters actually are. As is so often the case, Frew explores the question of how well we really know our siblings and our actions dependant on our designated role. It’s an interesting idea and one that is explored well.
Beyond the family, Nina reflects on her list of sexual partners, none of whom create a meaningful relationship. Tarnished by her experiences she slowly realises that it is not what she wants and without any real action she drifts away from these men.
But we never truly get a deep understanding of Nina and her motivations, nor do we learn much more about Amber or Meg. Yet the relationships between them change and evolve as they weave in and out of each other’s lives as siblings do.
It’s not a happy novel and reminds me a little of Sorrow and Bliss without the wit. But the writing is descriptive, the rainforest, the party house and the landmarks in Melbourne to name a few. It’s also emotive and confronting and in the end hopeful.
Wildflowers is unsettling and at times, confronting. From the first few pages, I was invested but this may not be a novel for everyone.