Palace of Tears is the debut novel from author, Julian Leatherdale. It is a brooding generational saga of family, loss, betrayal, vengeance and discovery. Written from a shifting third person narrative, we watch events unfold from the perspective of several different key characters spanning three generations and more than a century. It follows the family of Adam Fox, a wealthy hotelier, owner of The Palace (based around the real life hotel, The Hydro Majestic). It is about passion and secrets and its impact on the family throughout the generations.
For me, the book’s strongest attribute was the setting, in creating a vivid imagining of both the historical setting and the physical location (the Blue Mountains in NSW, Australia). I was initially drawn to read this book due to its location, which is home to The Manuscript Agency. But I was also drawn into reading it because of my interest in historical fiction.
The Blue Mountains setting had me hooked from the beginning. I am not sure whether my connection to the location encouraged more loyalty to the contents than I might otherwise have shown, but certainly as a local to the area I really enjoyed reading about what is on my back doorstep.
It’s not often that you get to read a romanticized version about your own small pocket of the world.
I did wonder if the magic of the mountains translated to non-residents or to those who had never visited this part of the world, so I did a little ‘review research’ and I discovered that audiences from far and wide were captivated by the setting. In fact, many reviews noted (like me) that they felt that this was the book’s strongest feature. I would say that the setting alone managed to imbue a sense of mystery, danger, tension, beauty, fragility and drama into the lives of the characters and their journeys. The location really set us up for everything that was to unfold.
This isn’t to say other aspects weren’t also wonderful. I really enjoyed the journey that I was taken on and found that I was pleasantly surprised by many of the little twists and turns that are weaved in throughout the novel. I was especially surprised by the twist at the end, which I really didn’t see coming (and neither did any of the ladies in my book club!).
The balance between historical fact and fiction was also well managed had me hooked…and has encouraged me to continue researching to find out more about some of the events highlighted (like the wartime internment camps, the deadly influenza outbreak that swept through NSW, and the fires that raged through Leura).
Although overall I really enjoyed this book and was drawn in by the characters, there were definitely a few aspects that I felt restricted my engagement with the content. The book was much longer than it needed to be and ran over familiar ground more often than was necessary. The repetition of familiar content slowed the narrative in parts and lost my interest a little. There was also a little more telling than showing than I would like. Sometimes it felt as though the author wanted to rush through some parts in order to connect you with the next twist. This really impacted on my experience of being taken on a journey and also reduced the impact of the twist as the build-up was not successfully managed.
I was also a little dubious about structuring the book into three parts was. Although they are setup to be about particular characters, the way the sections unfold meant that by the end of the ‘part’ we were actually more interested in other characters and journeys. This didn’t really impact my enjoyment or understanding of the narrative, but I also couldn’t really see the point to using this structure.
Overall I would happily suggest this book as a good read and would certainly read
any other titles this author might publish in the future.