The Winds of Heaven by Judith Clarke
An amazing book that takes a deep look at love, depression, sisterhood, and life. Clementine and Fan were opposites in many ways, but that just drew them closer. They were more sisters than cousins, pulled together over the summer they spent at Fan’s house in Lake Conapaira. Clementine was dull and regular next to the wild and amazing Fan. But Fan’s life was not good, living alone with her abusive mother now that both her father and older sister had left. Fan longed to head to the blue hills that she could see from her room, knew that there was something special out there waiting for her. As time went on, both young women faced decisions that would change their lives, fears that would overwhelm them, and responsibilities that weighed upon them. This is a book about the two very different friends, who both relied on each other despite their distance from one another and the small choices that forced them even further apart.
Clarke’s writing is incandescent in this novel. My book bristles with bookmarks, marking passages where the writing is astounding and staggeringly lovely. Here is one of my favorites from early in the book where Clementine is describing how different Lake Conapaira is from her home:
You could even smell the difference: a mixture of sun and dust, wild honey and the smoky tang from the old kerosene fridge on the back veranda. And you could smell feelings, too – Clementine was sure of it: you could smell anger and hatred and disappointment and jagged little fears. The anger smelled like iron and the disappointment smelled like mud.
Clarke moves from dense writing like this that truly brings a reader into the scene and makes it real to lighter moments, dwelling on certain thoughts for awhile. And beautifully, those are the moments that the reader carries with them, importantly through the book, the moments that must be remembered at the end.
This is an Australian novel that is steeped in Australia. Readers will feel the red dirt in the pages, thanks to the vivid descriptions that Clarke offers us. The sense of place is not only strong, it is inherent to the story. Clarke set this book in modern time but the bulk of the story takes place in the 1950s and 1960s as Clementine and Fan grow up. The time is important here too, reflected in the story.
The two characters, Fan and Clementine, are drawn with great care. Readers learn about how they think, how they approach the world, and the way the world has shaped them in turn. Though both girls are very different, they struggle with similar things. They both have moments of weakness and shame, paired with moments of strength and empowerment. They both see the other person as the strong one, the intelligent one, the beauty. It is what brings them together and also what drives them apart.
This is a book about our journey through life and the choices we make. It is a powerful book, one where even though the ending does not surprise is shockingly brutal at times. Yet with the brutality comes a beauty as well. Highly recommended, this is a book appropriate for good readers who will enjoy the prose. Appropriate for ages 15-17. Make sure you have some tissues around when reading the end.
Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt.