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Heart of the Grass Tree is an exquisite, searing and hope-filled debut about mothers and daughters and family stories, about country and its living history.

Pearl remembers Nell’s feet stretched towards the campfires on the beach, her fourth toe curled in and nestled against the middle toe like a small prawn. They all have a curled fourth toe – Diana, Lucy, Pearl.
When Pearl’s grandmother Nell dies unexpectedly, Pearl and her family – mother Diana, sister Lucy – return to Kangaroo Island to mourn and farewell her. Each of them knew Nell intimately but differently, and each woman must reckon with Nell’s passing in her own way. But Nell had secrets, too, and as Pearl, Diana and Lucy interrogate their feelings about the island, Pearl starts to pull together the scraps Nell left behind – her stories, poems, paintings – and unearths a connection to the island’s early history, of the early European sealers and their first contact with the Ngarrindjeri people.
As the three women are in grief pulled apart from each other, Pearl’s deepening connection to their history, the island’s history, grounds her, and will ultimately bring the women back to each other.
Heart of the Grass Tree is an exquisite, searing and hope-filled debut about mothers and daughters and family stories, about country and its living history.

Reviews

Heart of the Grass Tree is a brilliant achievement. A strange and compelling story that held me in thrall from the first page to the last.

Alex Miller

I loved this exquisite novel. Molly Murn has created a gorgeously lyrical story of love, family and belonging set against the landscape and history of Kangaroo Island. Murn’s rendering of the island’s beauty borders on the sublime, and her portrayal of the acts of blood, violence, and forgiveness perpetrated there is profound in its deep understanding of human behaviour. The HEART OF THE GRASS TREE announces Murn as a brilliant new voice in Australian fiction.

Hannah Kent

From the opening descriptions of the purest strain of Ligurian bees on Kangaroo Island, Murn's novel promises a poetic narrative, relishing in sensuality and informed by historical research. And it delivers, But this exquisite dreaminess in describing both place and the emotionally intricate stories around Nell, her children and granddaughter are also contrasted with shocks of violence between blackfellas and whitefellas, reminiscent of Kate Grenville's The Secret River. It is a fitting way to write about Australia's violent history, from which South Australia is far exempt from. Murn confronts this uncomfortable history with honesty, sensitivity and skill, just as her novel's contemporary characters must confront their own personal histories.

Michael X Savvas, Adelaide Review

Heart of the Grass Tree is a story, richly told, of the landscape of Australian history – both emotional and physical – and the way we record these stories of place.

Marie Matteson, Readings Carlton

Every piece of this story, every person who enters its frame – even if only momentarily – contributes a piece of the picture. But the picture is bigger than any one individual. This is not the story of a person, or a family, or even a community. It is the story of an island, and islands existed long before we entered the scene, and will endure long after we are gone. This type of novel does not allow the reader to be a passive recipient of the story. Instead, you are required to fit the pieces together, to become part of the consequences, lest your own role in the narrative fade away like the names weathered out of stone. As all of us will, in the end.

Sally Nimon, Newtown Review of Books

With Heart of the Grass Tree, Molly Murn cements herself as not only one of Australia’s most exciting up-and-coming novelists, but a brilliant novelist of Australia. Lyricism empowers this tale of settlement on Kangaroo Island. Its prose is gorgeous, every page jewelled by Murn’s lyrical parlance, antithetical to the brutality of its conquest by the first settlers. Her rendering of the island’s natural beauty and it’s violent, oppressive history is truly exquisite and piercingly acute. A true gift of a novel from a truly impressive storyteller.

Simon McDonald

A richly told story about people and place.

Jeff Popple, Canberra Weekly

Molly Murn's stunning debut charts the sorrow of three generations of women, all damaged by fraught relationships with their mothers. [Kangaroo] Island functions almost as another character - a witness to centuries of human violence, death, love and birth. Murn's book is a timely reminder of where we've come from and the light that lies ahead.

Anna Carew-Reid, Sunday Times, Perth

Exquisite storytelling from a vital, lilting new voice.

Australian Womens Weekly

Murn moves effortlessly from one era to the next, suggesting connections between characters in different times, and making the island come alive in salty, sandy, windswept prose.

Margot Lloyd, Adelaide Advertiser

The book's strength is its evocation of that wild [Kangaroo] island, with its 'wind-rush, and its sea-howl'.

Kerryn Goldsworthy, The Sydney Morning Herald

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Formats & editions

  • Trade Paperback

    9780143792499

    February 5, 2019

    Vintage Australia

    304 pages

    RRP $32.99

    Online retailers

    • Amazon
    • Angus & Robertson Bookworld
    • Booktopia
    • Dymocks
    • Abbey's Bookshop
    • Boomerang Books
    • Collins Booksellers
    • Books Kinokuniya
    • QBD
    • Readings
    • Robinsons Bookshop
    • The Nile
    Or

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • EBook

    9780143792505

    February 5, 2019

    Random House Australia

    304 pages

    Online retailers

    • Amazon Kindle AU
    • iBooks
    • Google Play EBook AU
    • Kobo Ebook
    • Booktopia
    • eBooks

Extract

Nell
King George Beach (Sandy), Kangaroo Island, South Australia

My mother kept bees: Apis mellifera ligustica, the Ligurian bee, which exists in its purest strain here on Kangaroo Island. The bees were born in the Ligurian Alps in the days of the Roman Empire and were introduced to the island in the early 1880s by a certain August Fiebig.

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Book Clubs
Heart of the Grass Tree Book Club Notes

A searing and hope-filled debut that would be perfect for a mother-daughter book club.

Article
Stolen Moments in Time

Molly Murn reflects on the creation of Heart of the Grass Tree.