The Better Son by Katherine Johnson ~ Australian #FamilyDrama @KJohnsonauthor #FridayReads

Author: Katherine Johnson

Performed by Steve Shanahan

Released: May 2019 by Wavesound Audiobooks

Category: Historical Fiction, Family Drama, Audiobook, Book Review

1952. Tasmania. The beautiful green, rolling hills of the dairy town Mole Creek have a dark underside — a labyrinthine underworld of tunnels that stretch for countless miles, caverns the size of cathedrals and underground rivers that flood after heavy rain. The caves are dangerous places, forbidden to children. But this is Tasmania — an island at the end of the earth. Here, rules are made to be broken.

In the summer of 1952 brothers Tommy and Kip were growing up in Mole Creek, Tasmania, on a dairy farm. Harold, their father, had returned from the war a changed man, prone to explosive rages and Kip bore the brunt of his father’s temper, which would sometimes erupt into violence.

Tommy was the favoured son and could do no wrong in his father’s eyes. Their mother, Jess, unaware Kip’s ‘accidents’ were the result of abuse loved both her sons unreservedly. Kip’s never ending yearning for his father’s approval and love, despite the way he’s treated, is depicted poignantly.

The boys spent their spare time exploring the surrounding hills which hide an extensive network of underground rivers, tunnels and caverns. They are forbidden to go underground but when they find a hidden opening, the temptation is too much. The cave they discover becomes their safe place, a refuge from their father’s moods and fractured family life, especially for Kip. Until one day their forays into the cave end in a tragedy that follows Kip throughout his life, manifesting in mounting and overwhelming feelings of responsibility and guilt.

Fifty years later Kip is an award winning scientist with a family of his own. He travels to his parents’ farm, looked after now by Squid, the old farmhand who has always been Kip’s friend. His mother has died, his father is in a nursing home, suffering from dementia. Kip intends to return to the cave he and his brother called Kubla, to try and find Tommy, atone for the secret he’s kept for so long, and make good on the promise he made to his late mother. Having no idea of the trauma ahead, he hopes his journey into the past will also serve to make him a better father to his own son.

It occurs to him that he is just like this town. On the surface: successful, fine, happy even, but just underneath there is a great gaping hole.

The Better Son is a fascinating story of secrets and lies, forgiveness and love, tightly woven and spanning decades, set against an evocative and dramatic landscape, above and below ground. The repercussions of a damaged childhood coupled with the tragedy are all too obvious in the man Kip becomes, low self esteem, self accusation and a sense of failure causing him to guard his emotions with his own family. 

Well defined characters populate an atmospheric and believable family drama with realistic relationships. Sensitively written, the first half of the story was excellent, painting a vivid picture of life in a harsh yet beautiful environment, my sympathies lay completely with Kip. The second half chronicling Kip’s adult life is interspersed with life and events at Mole Creek from Squid’s perspective, providing a deeper understanding of the characters while uncovering secrets that make sense as certain things become clear.

Steve Shanahan’s wonderful narration adds to the overall enjoyment.

Book links ~ Amazon UK | Amazon US

 About the Author

Katherine Johnson was born in Brisbane, Australia, in 1971. She has a Bachelor of Arts (Journalism) and holds an honours degree in marine science. Katherine now live in Tasmania where she has worked as a science journalist and lives on a clifftop at the edge of the bush with her husband and two children. Her non-fiction articles have been published internationally.

Author links ~ Twitter | Website | Facebook 

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