Book Review: The Dark Mountain by Catherine Jinks


The story of two fiercely strong women, mother and daughter, one determined never to explain her choice and the other equally as determined to dig deeply and unrelentingly for the truth.

Born into a life of privilege, Charlotte Atkinson is raised by her widowed mother on a vast and wealthy estate near Sutton Forest, New South Wales, enjoying an idyllic early childhood in the great stone house still known today as Oldbury.

But in the summer of 1836, a violent incident in the Belanglo wilderness sets off a chain of events that transforms Charlotte’s existence. Inexplicably, her mother is prompted to marry again, thereby surrendering her property, fortune and offspring to Charlotte’s vicious and degenerate new stepfather, George Barton. His presence turns Oldbury into a place of madness and terror, casting a shadow so long that it continues to haunt Charlotte for years after his mysterious death.

Charlotte, the eldest of the Atkinson children, is the narrator of the story and through her eyes and thoughts are seen the consequences of her mother marrying her overseer, George Barton. Oldbury, once happy and prosperous, slides into ruin by Barton's mismanagement. He is a drunkard  and violent, feared not only by the family, but also by the convict work force.

This marriage brings so much misery to the Atkinson family that like Charlotte I asked what was the reason for it. Unfortunately there is never a clear answer given to this question and I was still left wondering at the end of the novel, though a mature age Charlotte  appears to gain an insight into her mother’s actions.

Throughout the novel Charlotte’s mother is forever battling  the trustees of Oldbury for money and guardianship of the children. As Charlotte grows older she is constantly at odds with her mother and cannot forgive, what she sees as the ultimate betrayal, her mother’s marriage to Barton. Desperate to understand, Charlotte is forever defying her mother, in an attempt to force an explanation.

The atmosphere of the novel is at times menacing, Oldbury  is built in the shadow of  Gingenbullen Mountain. It borders the Belanglo forest, where bushrangers roamed, and is still a notorious place today.  John Lynch, Australia’s first serial killer, also has a link to Oldbury, and  the evil presence of George  Barton adds further to the menace.  All these things have an effect on the impressionable young Charlotte and it is no wonder that she comes to dislike the home she once loved and, at times, her mother whom Charlotte blamed for her estrangement from the family.

I was totally engrossed in this story and sympathized with Charlotte. How her life would have been easier had her mother taken the time to explain, but for some reason her mother did not wish to do so. Society was quick to condemn those that stepped out of its boundaries and Charlotte and her mother, so much alike, shared this fate.

I was disappointed that no reason was ever given for the marriage of Charlotte's mother and George Barton, but this added to the suspense and kept me reading with the hope that all would be revealed at the end. However, even without a neat ending, the story was still powerful and I have no qualms in recommending this novel, a tale of one of Australia's colonial families, as a great read.

The Dark Mountain is Book #2 of my commitment to the 2014 Australian Women Challenge.

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