Meg and Nina have been outshone by their younger sister Amber since childhood. They have become used to living on the margins of their parents’ interest, used to others turning away from them and towards charismatic Amber.
But Amber’s life has not gone the way they all thought it would, and now the three of them are together for the first time in years, on the road to a remote holiday rental in Far North Queensland, where Meg and Nina plan on helping Amber overcome her addiction. As good intentions gradually become terrifying reality, these sisters will test the limits of love and the line between care and control.
Peggy Frew’s Wildflowers is a disarming and moving novel about three sisters who test the boundaries of their fragile relationship in an effort to aid their youngest sister Amber as she spirals through a drug and alcohol addiction.
A character-driven exploration of love, family and grief, the book is largely set in the past. The bookend chapters of the novel are the present, where we realise how traumatised the 37-year-old Nina is after a recent family trip away to North Queensland. There, her and Meg had attempted to help wean her sister off drugs, and the results were enough to severely psychologically wound and damage Nina.
As the book progresses, we read about the events that transpired on this family trip away.
“They were still who they always had been, still those sisters, but on this afternoon, in this car, driving with the windows down between cane fields under a deepening sky with purple cut-out mountains in the distance, they were wearing it so lightly, their bossiness and flakiness and wildness; they were wearing it like they used to, like it was supple, slippery, not completely fixed. Like it could be taken off.”
Peggy seamlessly captures three very different women – Amber, Meg and Nina do not blend together at any point of the novel. I did not have to re-read to work out who was speaking, nor did I get confused whose life we were embedded in at any given moment.
She’s crafted three siblings whose lives have catapulted in completely different directions – Meg, whose happiness stems from family and those around her, Nina, who seems to prefer functioning solo and finds solace in distancing herself from others. She resembles the observant one. And then there’s Amber, who finds comfort in the chaotic and unstable nature of addiction.
“In the car Meg had been laughing too. Meg and Amber laughing in the front and Nina in the back hiding secret tears of hope behind her sunglasses. They had been close then, the three of them, together in that moment of lightness…”
Peggy’s writing is taut and highly observant, capturing even the most mundane of actions with intense clarity. There’s an intimacy to her writing that I think readers will love – an introspective and omniscient narrative.
The book does move back and forth between past and present and I did find it a little confusing at times – a little grey in its construction and separation – but other than that, found Wildflowers to be incredibly moving and well-crafted. I haven’t read Peggy’s earlier works yet, but this one certainly is a motivation to steer toward them.
“Amber followed, and Nina came last, eyes on the bags hooked one over each of Amber’s skinny arms. What might be in them? Not heroin – not anymore. And not ice – Amber, thank God, didn’t seem to have gone for ice. Pot? Maybe. Please don’t let her be that stupid, thought Nina.”
Literary fiction with rich, raw characters and a slow-build but satisfying story, Peggy Frew’s Wildflowers is recommended for literary readers. Readership skews female, 25+
Thank you to the publishing company for mailing me a review copy in exchange for an honest review.
Allen & Unwin Book Publishers