The Secrets at Ocean's Edge

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 05 Mar 2018

Member Reviews

This is a debut novel? Wow. I will only assume that Kali Napier has had extensive experience in some other area of writing because The Secrets of Ocean’s Edge is an impressive piece of Australian literature.

Set in 1932, WW1 is still affecting many of its characters either physically, mentally or financially.
With the country in the grips of a depression, Ernie Hass and his family have been forced off their wheat farm in the Western Australian region of Perenjori. Ernie’s big idea is to settle in Dongarra, a small coastal town, and open up a guesthouse for tourists. Going reluctantly along for the ride is his wife, Lilly, and their daughter, with a very Aussie sounding nickname, perfect for the time, of Girlie.

Both Ernie and Lilly have secrets, just as the title suggests, and both imagine Dongarra could be their big chance to start afresh. Unfortunately, it’s soon apparent that not only will some secrets they both know be revealed to Dongarra’s other residents, but also the secrets they are hiding from each other.

In fact, Dongarra, rather than alleviating their anxieties, adds to them, with its small town penchant for gossip, racism, sexism and as much classism as you can find in Australia.
We'll soon learn that simple things such as CWA meetings, golf tournaments, and fairs can be fraught with danger. 

Also thrown into the mix to complicate the Hass family’s life is Lilly’s brother, Tommy. Tommy is suffering from severe PTSD and his behaviour could be described as erratic at best. 

Obviously Napier doesn’t reveal all the characters’ secrets immediately but, by the three quarter mark, we know enough to realise that all is not going to end well. Napier builds the tension with a deft hand and this is probably my favourite thing about the book.

The secrets of the title are many and varied. Napier covers tough issues: sexual abuse/rape, child abuse, adultery, arson, extortion. The book can be quite harrowing at times. 

Australia’s history is put under the spotlight too. Other than the serious subjects, such as our treatment of our Indigenous peoples and the effects of the depression, the inclusion of the Great Emu War excited me hugely. I know, I’m frivolous, but the hilarity of that ‘campaign’ is one of my favourite things ever, so any book including it gets an extra star from me. (I must point out that Napier does not make the emu war humourous in any way and, instead, shows the heartbreak of the farmers battle to eradicate the emus who were decimating their crops.)

This book is definitely a piece of literature and would be perfect for older students to study. Although historical, many themes reflect modern problems. One in particular that I couldn’t help thinking about is America's need for gun control. The ease of obtaining firearms in 1932 was disturbing, especially for Tommy, who is in an extremely fragile mental state.

The one problem I had with the book is that I didn’t particularly like many of the characters. Lilly and Ernie in particular had no redeeming features, and it was difficult for me to feel sympathy for their plights at times. Yes, we all have flaws, but...

Overall, however, Napier’s superior writing kept me reading to find out their fate, but I did remove a star from my rating for this. Although, I still highly recommend the book.

4 out of 5
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This is a compelling story one that had me turning the pages, it is the story of life during the depression, in a seaside town Dongarra in Western Australia, there are so many characters in this story, men that came back from the war damaged, yes life was really hard but strength and stubbornness gets them through hardship, hurt and to a life although not perfect it is so much better after their struggles.

Ernie and Lily Hass and their daughter Girlie have had to give up their wheat farm in Perenjori the depression has hit hard, a fire causes more problems as does emus and rabbits, but ever positive Ernie moves the family to Dongarra to start a guest house and shop. Lily wants to be in with the woman of the town and works hard with Girlie and the CWA, she is working hard to not attract gossip in any form there was enough in the last town. But when her long lost brother finds them life starts to change and Lily is beginning to wonder if she will be able to keep her secrets.

Ernie has secrets that he keeps to himself as well and life seems to be running smoothly in the new town but with a clash of one of the town’s people things are getting difficult and problems are arising life for Ernie and Lily is becoming alienated and their daughter Girlie is feeling it as well, with one problem after another falling on their doorstep Ernie is still determined to get ahead.

This is a story of many secrets, secrets that when uncovered will cause even more problems, I found this story a very busy story a lot going on and a lot of characters to get to know with Ernie, Lily, Girlie and Tommy being the family that need to come to terms with the things that have happened in their lives so as they can move on. I remember my grandparents talking a lot about this era and how hard things were and this showed so well throughout the story. I did find it a bit hard to like Lily at the beginning but wow by the end I had nothing but praise for her and what she went through, and Ernie and Lily finally found a way to be happy. It is a moving story that I recommend.
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The Depression hit the wheat farmers in Perenjori hard. Lily and Ernie are forced to sell their wheat farm at Perenjori and move to the coastal town of Dongarra to start afresh. Although the guest house Ernie purchased is far from what she expected, Lily is excited about the prospect of mixing with the established families in Dongarra who have lived there for generations and have secure foundations. As she focuses on forming useful connections and allies, Lily is perturbed to discover that the president of the CWA in Dongarra knew some of the Perenjori CWA ladies. Fearing that gossip passed between the two groups of women may jeopardise her reputation, she works hard to establish herself before her secrets catch up with her.

The arrival of Lily’s brother adds another element of risk, both due to Tommy’s troubled state and the additional secrets that he may expose. Lily is encouraged by the efforts Ernie is making to improve their position, unaware of the deception he is hiding. Her daughter, Girlie is a constant disappointment and Lily’s efforts to improve her daughter cause anxiety and confusion for the child. As the plot builds, promises are made and broken and further lies are fabricated, creating a thick matt of deceit, fear, uncertainty. The real victim of this is Girlie who sees the duplicity and catches fragments of information, piecing them together using her own misguided logic to create a history where she is responsible for the conflict and shame within her family. When she discovers a secret about her heritage, her mind runs wild and she is driven to try even harder to please her mother and atone for her own perceived guilt.

It was interesting to read Girlie’s response to her mother’s discipline and the things that she overhead. She worries about the secrets and the rules of adults. She reflects a lot on the concept of belonging, comparing the ease she experienced with her friend at Perenjori with the isolation she is facing as a newcomer in a well-established town. Her thoughts about her mother’s attitudes to people based on their class and their race provide an interesting contrast to Lily’s prejudice. 

Napier has delved into her own family history for inspiration for The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge which creates some interesting historical links. She tells the story from the viewpoint of four characters: Lily, Ernie, Girlie and Tommy. This technique allows her to lay the groundwork of deception and misunderstanding well. Interesting Lily is central to the stories of Ernie, Girlie and Tommy, who are often motivated to please her. Lily is a superficial woman, who has spent years living for others rather than herself and is focused on presenting a frugal, pious front. I found it hard to warm to her social climbing, her duplicity and her racism, although I recognise it is reflective of attitudes in the 1930’s and a result of her past experiences. It also creates a dramatic plot.
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Set on the coast of Western Australia during the Great Depression years, this is the story of four members of a family dealing with the challenges of life during that difficult period and all the while keeping secrets, some even from themselves.

Ernie fails at a farming enterprise and takes his family to Dongarra, where he embarks on a new guesthouse venture and is convinced that “life would come good for them.” Lily is his long-suffering wife with social aspirations who tries to ingratiate herself with the “right sort” and influential members of the close-knit community. Their daughter Girlie is the sensitive child who has to try and fit into this new environment. And then there is Tommy, Lily’s itinerant shell-shocked brother, who still suffers hallucinations and nightmares generated by the trenches of World War I.

Through these four points of view there is a tender unravelling of the many misunderstandings, lies, broken promises, and hidden secrets that have woven these characters together. Tommy is gut-wrenchingly tragic, and Lily is particularly well-written and perhaps the most intriguing. The background research and 1930s atmosphere are excellent, and all the characters behave in a manner appropriate to their place in history, including their uncomfortable attitude towards Aboriginal people. As with other novels that are inspired by their authors’ ancestry, here you will find that special extra quality of storytelling that is only found in truth.

If you enjoyed similar recent Australian novels such as Joy Rhoades’ The Woolgrower’s Companion, Lucy Treloar’s Salt Creek, Lisa Bigelow’s We That Are Left, and Rosalie Ham’s The Dressmaker, then this is definitely for you.
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The story is set in 1932, the depression and located in Western Australian towns of Perenjori, Dongara and Geraldton. Hard times fall upon families and Ernie, his wife Lily and daughter Girlie are suffering. But more than just physical or financial suffering but the consequences of too many secrets. Secrets that eat away at many of the characters. Lies compounded upon lies, secrets becoming so tangled that the web that is weaved is suffocating! 
As a debut novel I was really impressed! There were moments when I felt confused by some of the loose threads but eventually it comes together. It is a sad story of prejudice, narrow mindedness, family complications and human vulnerability with facing truths.
Highly recommended read.

Thank you to Netgalley and publisher Hachette Australia for the opportunity to read and review this novel.
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Like so many other farmers in the Depression of the 1930s, Ernie and Lily Hass have to walk off their drought-affected wheat farm north of Perth. Together with their daughter, nicknamed Girlie, they decide to start again on the coast and open a guesthouse for holidaymakers.  Unfortunately Ernie has no head for business and is also a bit of a philanderer. Life is a struggle without much money but Lily is determined to fit in and make friends. However, just as they are starting to make their way in their new community, Lily’s war trauma affected brother, Tommy, turns up and Lily’s carefully prepared plans start to unravel and family secrets are at danger of being exposed. 

In this novel Kali Napier looks at the issues that can blow families apart – not only external factors such as drought, economic depression, homelessness, PTSD and racial prejudice but also long hidden secrets. The characters are well written and the main characters all get to add to the narrative from their point of view so that we get a good understanding of what motivates Ernie, Lily, Girlie and Tommy and how they are affected by the events that unfold. In this very accomplished debut novel, Kali Napier has perfectly captured the jealousy, gossip and claustrophobia of a small community in 1930s Australia as Lily tries to be accepted into the hierarchical Country Women’s Association and Girlie tries to make friends at school and please her mother. Racial segregation and discrimination was also rife and dealt with sensitivity and empathy in the novel. Recommended for all readers who enjoy a well researched and engaging historical novel.
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This was an enjoyable story set in the 1930's in a small town in WA. I like reading stories set in my home town, but I'm glad I wasn't around then. The constant worrying about what other people think and wanting to keep in with the best of society like Lily and Ernie feel they have to do in this story would have worn me down. This is a story about secrets, how everybody has them and the lengths people will go to keep them. How might life have been different for these characters had they not carried the burdens of their secrets but instead shared them with those they loved.
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It was 1932 when Ernie and Lily Hass and their ten-year-old daughter Girlie packed the last of their meagre belongings onto the cart behind Brownie and slowly headed away from their home in Perenjori, making their way into their new life in Dongarra. The wheat farm that had failed because of the Depression, the lack of support from the Government and a fire was what they were turning their backs on. Ernie was sure he could make their future better with the guesthouse they would open beside the beach in Dongarra.

Lily was desperate to climb the social ladder in her new town, but making new friends wasn’t easy. She had to be careful at what she said – her secrets needed to remain buried. But Ernie’s business acumen – or lack of it – was dragging him down. And he wouldn’t tell Lily of his problems either. But it was when Lily’s brother Tommy arrived in town, having searched until he found her, that troubles intensified. Tommy was shell-shocked from the war and wasn’t always at his best. Plus Ernie didn’t want him there…

Girlie was alone and lonely. She had only one friend at school – but was she a friend? And when she found another, she realised she would need to keep that secret as well. What would happen to the small family who seemed buried in secrets? 

The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge is Aussie author Kali Napier’s debut novel and is a deeply moving story of a family just trying to be accepted. The racial prejudice of the day is highlighted; the shocking effects on men who have returned from war; and the consequences of keeping secrets – plus the importance of family. A novel that will be accepted into the literary fiction genre, The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge is one I highly recommend.

With thanks to Hachette Australia, NetGalley and the author for my ARC to read and review.
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Set in 1932 during the depression, this novel follows Ernie, Lily and their daughter, Girlie, who have just moved to the town of Dongarra in Western Australia for a new start. Leaving their old town of Perenjori behind them, along with financial misfortunes and bad memories. They take little with them having lost almost everything but one thing that does follow them are their secrets. Ernie has grand plans to set up a summer guesthouse but underestimates the difficulties of attempting to rebuild in a small established town. Lily attempts to align herself with the right people in the Country Women's Association, however, all her efforts may have come undone when her brother Tommy, who is living with his own war demons, shows up in the small town.

Kali Napier has used elements of her own background and family history to create an intricate and engaging novel. Although this is Napier's first novel, she comes across as a much more experienced writer with her lovely prose, authenticity and a plot that has you reading to the final pages to uncover all the secrets. It is evident that Napier has undertaken a vast amount of research into her novel incorporating various themes, plots and descriptions pertinent to that era.
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Book blurb...

Every family has secrets that bind them together. A heart-rending story of a guesthouse keeper and his wife who attempt to start over, from devastatingly talented debut author Kali Napier.
1932. Ernie and Lily Hass, and their daughter, Girlie, have lost almost everything in the Depression; all they have keeping their small family together are their secrets. Abandoning their failing wheat farm and small-town gossip, they make a new start on the west coast of Australia where they begin to build a summer guesthouse. But forming new alliances with the locals isn't easy.
Into the Hasses' new life wanders Lily's shell-shocked brother, Tommy, after three harrowing years on the road following his incarceration. Tommy is seeking answers that will cut to the heart of who Ernie, Lily and Girlie really are.
Inspired by the author's own family history, The Secrets at Ocean's Edge is a haunting, memorable and moving tale of one family's search for belonging. Kali Napier breathes a fever-pitch intensity into the story of these emotionally fragile characters as their secrets are revealed with tragic consequences. If you loved The Light Between Oceans and The Woolgrower's Companion you will love this story.

My Thoughts…
I have to agree with other reviewers that this debut novel will garner high praise and no doubt be a contender for a few literary awards. And well deserved, too. 
The story is a journey back in time and told with such authenticity I had to look up the author to see she wasn’t 101 years old! The attention to detail is astounding: the setting, the terminology/language, the various conflicts the Hass family comes up against. As such, it is not the sort of read you will whip through. It took me quite a bit longer to get through this one due to me wanting read every word!! You will love some characters and wonder about others. 
It is a historical novel with a simmering plot line, well foreshadowed and the big secret(s) mostly revealed in the last few (and deliberately short) chapters. 
A real beauty for lovers of historical Australian fiction.
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This book is set in 1932 when, after a series of financial misfortunes, Ernie and Lily Hass and their daughter Girlie escape their farm and the tiny West Australian town of Perenjori for a new start running a guest house in coastal Geraldton. 
But starting again isn't easy, and Lily's attempts to climb the social ladder are thwarted by Ernie's ineptitude in business. 
Holding them back, too, are their secrets, which they try to keep hidden not only from the townsfolk of Geraldton, but from each other as well. One by one, though, their secrets are revealed and it looks as if they'll lose everything again. 
Added to the mix are Lily's forlorn and shell-shocked brother, Tommy, and the question of who are Girlie's real parents.
Napier's prose is delightful, and has about it a lyrical simplicity:
'It's pretty out here at night. The stars. You know, I sometimes wonder if they're not all the souls of people we've lost, set up there to watch over us, let us know we're going to be all right.'
The book covers many themes, including the devastating aftermath of war, the importance of family, and racism in early twentieth century Australia. The characters are flawed but likeable, and beg the question: How much can people really change? 
The historical period in which the novel is set feels authentic and the research involved is obvious. Napier also knows when to keep a secret and when to reveal it, giving away just enough to keep the reader turning the page. 
This is a beautiful book—a literary page-turner!
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The Secrets at Ocean's Edge is about how a family coped after losing everything during the depression. Ernie Hass due to wrong financial discussions during the depression uplift his wife Lilly and his daughter Girlie to Dongarra to start a new life. However, this did not happen the families problems followed them to Dongarra. The readers of The Secrets at Ocean's Edge will follow the twist and turns in the lives of Ernie, Lilly and Girlie Hass to see what happens to them.

The Secrets at Ocean's Edge is the first book I have read of Kali Napier, and I did enjoy reading it. I like Kali Napier writing style by using Multi-POV representing each chapter as a narrative of the main character. I love Kali Napier description of the setting of The Secrets at Ocean's Edge for her readers. I especially appreciate the way Kali Napier portrayed her characters. Kali Napier did a fantastic job in ensure that her readers engaged with her characters and the plot of The Secrets at Ocean's Edge. 

The readers of The Secrets at Ocean's Edge will learn about the problems and consequences of military combat and how it can have devastating effects on everyone around them. Also, the readers of The Secrets at Ocean's Edge will learn the results of blackmailing someone. Reading The Secrets at Ocean's Edge, I started to think about the difficulties that rural communities had during the depression. Also, the readers of The Secrets at Ocean's Edge will begin to learn about the role of CWA in small rural communities. 

Thank you, NetGalley and Hachette Australia for my free copy of The Secrets at Ocean's Edge for an honest review. I recommend this book.
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I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book from Hachette Australia and netgalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

We don't always talk about and reminisce about the days before mobile phones, tv, and washing machines,  This novel takes us back to the days when women worked harder and maybe needed each other more in more ways than one.
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