Book review: The Road Back by Di Morrissey

The Road Back

The Road Back

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When jet-setting journalist Chris Baxter loses his job, a trip back to his small home town near Sydney becomes the catalyst for life changes he could never have imagined.

Di Morrissey’s love affair with both her Australian homeland and some of the world’s most fascinating countries has become the enduring hallmark of her warm and perceptive novels.

The Road Back, a beautiful, beguiling story about family, compromise, corruption and justice, weaves between a contemporary rural idyll in New South Wales and the turbulence of Indonesia in the 1960s.

Written with the political accuracy, cultural sensitivity and striking visual charm which have made Morrissey one of Australia’s best loved and most successful authors, this is a novel packed with universal human themes and unusual, exotic locations.

Chris Baxter is back in Sydney after a stint in the USA as foreign correspondent for an Australian newspaper but finds himself at a crossroads when he is forced out of his job by a family decision.

Reunited with his 14-year-old daughter Megan, who is unhappy living with her mother and step family, the two of them decide to spend the summer with Chris’s widowed mother Susan at his childhood home in the beautiful riverside town of Neverend which nestles below the Great Dividing Range in New South Wales.

Chris is delighted to meet up again with old friends but discovers that job opportunities are scarce and it’s not long before he finds himself unable to pay his bills.

When Susan is invited to the reunion of a group of six Australians who travelled to Indonesia 40 years ago on a graduate programme to foster friendship between the two countries, he experiences the familiar scent of an exciting story.

The mission, his mother tells him, went badly wrong and ended with the death of one of the group. Chris begins to investigate but strange events start to threaten the family and the peace of the small town is shattered.

As the intimidation grows, so does Chris’s determination to uncover the truth and with his family in danger, he must find some answers before it’s too late.

Morrissey has the gift of painting a thousand pictures with her words. The Australian landscape – bustling Sydney and the sparkling rivers and creeks beyond the city – contrasts sharply with the paddy fields, poverty and instability of Indonesia 40 years ago as this intriguing mystery unravels.

But she is is always at her best when writing about the relationships that are the bedrock of family life. The tender bond between Chris and his adolescent daughter, and the wisdom of older generation Susan, are exquisitely portrayed.

The Road Back also pays tribute to the power of community, a mutual support system that strengthens friendships, gives a sense of belonging and values shared experiences.

An enchanting story about life, the choices we make and shouldering the consequences…

(Pan, paperback, £7.99)