Lantana Lane by Eleanor Dark

You’d think all the Australian book bloggers were getting to me, given how much Aussie lit I’ve been reading lately, but Lantana Lane by Eleanor Dark captured my attention in a review by French blogger Emma @ Book Around the Corner. Thank goodness Emma reviewed Lantana Lane because it was absolutely wonderful and you should buy it.

The cover leaves much to the imagination.

Eleanor Dark’s novel is set on Black Creek Road, along the coast in Queensland, is a mile-long strip of dirt that dead ends. It’s barely traversable. There, several pineapple farmers live. It is never called Black Creek Road; to all residents it is Lantana Lane. The place is unpaved and nearly overrun with the eponymous lantana, a “flowering shrub” that has become a problem in Australia because:

Lantana forms dense thickets that exclude native species, leading to its complete dominance of the understorey and eventually the canopy. It has also been estimated that graziers spend $17.1 million a year on lantana control and lose more than $104 million in production due to lantana invasion. It is spread mainly by birds. 

Thanks, Australian government website!

Basically, it’s that old story of something that humans got in one place and took to another, where it then flourished because it’s good at killing other things. Like pythons in Florida. Anyway, it’s a shitty bush.

Lantana Lane is not about the plant, but the people. They aren’t farmers, not really. It seems they all lived boring lives as accountants and lawyers and whatnot and decided farming would be quaint. And who knew pineapples were grown in Australia? Not me.

Have you ever read one of those novels that’s more like interconnected short stories? One chapter focuses on Ken, who “farms in a slap-happy sort of way, working furiously for a few months, and then disappearing for a week or two. He doesn’t keep a cow, or fowls, because he says he likes to be able to walk out at any time. . .” This is not unusual behavior for Ken, “. . . for his sister tells us he once got down from a bus he was driving, left it standing there bulging with passengers, and was seen no more for six months.” So, we get to know Ken, and then in another chapter featuring a different resident of Lantana Lane he will be a secondary character. I love books that do this! Every character has a great backstory filled with personality, and the more you read, the more your interest and care in the novel builds.

As you can likely tell from the quotes above, Elizabeth Dark has a wicked sense of humor, sometimes dry, but more often attached to extended action scenes. Not action like explosions and car chases, but a lot of movement. French expatriate Aunt Isabelle was my favorite (though it is hard to pick!). Her chapter reveals a woman who has read up on Australia, though she knows little about the reality (like me, I suppose), and plans to move to Lantana Lane to live with her niece’s family. When she arrives, she decides her niece’s son needs a dog, and Dark commences with a wild scene in which Aunt Isabelle tries to wrangle the world’s worst dog, and to get the purebred jerk for free, too. Then she must hide the dog on a train to travel Lantana Lane.

However, she has no ride from the train station to Lantana Lane and refuses to go by a regular car because she has heard that Australia is rough-n-tumble. Concerned citizens consider dumping her on a mule train before a Ken (oh, Ken!) enters the picture again with the most amazing, run-down jalopy in all of fiction-dom. I mean, I can’t even accurately describe how fantastic the whole chapter is, other than to say every moment is fast-paced, hilarious, and unexpected. At one point, Aunt Isabelle is beating a man with a pineapple and loses the new dog because he’s gone flying out of the vehicle after Ken hits a particularly large bump in the . . . okay, they’re on a goat track, not a road.

You ever read one of those books that’s so wonderful you’re constantly pestering someone (sorry, Nick) because you want to read a particularly funny line? Or in which you highlight so much there’s not much text left naked? That’s Lantana Lane. I’m going to read this novel again soon, I can tell you that much, and I’ll likely convince the spouse that this should be the next book I read aloud to him. All the stars, highly recommended.

*For comparison, similarly funny, witty novels would be Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons by Shirley Jackson, The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald, and The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery.

45 comments

  1. What a great review! And I’ll take the credit seeing as I recommended Lantana Lane to Emma (AND The Egg and I to you). Now I’d better read it myself. I’ve read Eleanor Dark off and on over the years but didn’t really connect the dots as to how good she is until I started writing up Australian Women Writers from between the Wars (Gen 3). She was an important Modernist, important for her discussion of the effect of White Settlement on Indigenous Australians and now you say she writes humour as well. How good is that!

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    • There wasn’t anything about indigenous people in Lantana Lane, it was pretty much all humor, and I got the idea that the characters were likely all white. Thank you for the compliment. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen you use an exclamation point!

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s true, and perceptive. Dark’s modernist works seem to be all white middle class, including the ‘farmers’ you describe here. She was writing 80 years ago, well before the current fashion for including token Blacks in the cast. Her Indigenous-themed works, the Timeless Land trilogy, seem completely separate.

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  2. This sounds like something I’d like – I looked and my library system has three of her books but not this one. I’ll keep it in mind though! I do like linked stories – like Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout.

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  3. I loved The Little Company, which I read for this year’s January event; I’ve got LL on my shelf so I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed it so much (as did Emma). Our ILL still functions at the city level (although not all the 100 branches of libraries are staffed right now and I believe some of them are still functioning as food banks–which I only mention because I know you’re a library geek too) but it was cancelled flatout at the provincial level after the last election (I don’t expect other countries’ residents follow Canadian politics but the handsome and charismatic PM that some might recognize is not leader of the province too…here we have a fan of #45 in office for another couple of years).My existing ILLs are still sitting in a queue on my card; normally they would be automatically cancelled after a year, but it’s as though everyone is just holding their breath and letting things sit for now. (Not complaining, I feel very lucky for library stuff. Just talkin to another library gal.)

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    • The library situation sounds hard in Toronto. I’m wondering how many libraries are connected in the city, meaning they are part of the same system and share books among branches vs. an ILL, which comes from a different library system altogether.

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      • Yes, you’re quite right, it’s two entirely different systems, but when I’ve mentioned in other convo’s that there is no more ILL here, people have taken that to mean that I can’t get any books from other libraries. Any of the branches here in the city, that are open/operational as libraries during the lockdowns, are still sharing their books, as always, with the other branches in the city. About 15/100 branches are closed for lockdown reasons. Another 5 or so for construction issues. Nearly all of the books I’m reading come from the remaining 80ish library branches. And ILL still exists in Canada, too, just not in the province I reside in (Ontario), having been nixed immediately after the last leadership changeover. So, for instance, Consumed by Ink is still happily ILLing and making me wish I lived in Nova Scotia. LOL

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        • In Western Australia the libraries are run by the town/city councils but the books are all owned by the State Library. Our libraries only shut down for a few weeks, a year ago. We look up books on the State catalogue then get our local library to order them in, or just drive over to the library that has it and open a membership there, which I did yesterday to reserve Butter Honey Pig Bread from South Perth, which will be the fifth council area whose library I belong to.

          One other thing. my local library Belmont has modernised a couple of times in the past few years and now has no desk at all. You self-check in and out and if you’re lucky you can catch a librarian wandering around, though they’re mostly helping mothers and children. The librarians say no one has been laid off, but I wonder.

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          • I would think they would at least have a reference librarian who does work like I do. We find and connect people to resources because oftentimes folks don’t even know what’s out there. I don’t know how many times people have said, “Oh, there are books about that?” I even do things like connect patrons to the county clerk out of state to get a death certificate, etc. I hope the Belmont library at least has some programming.

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  4. Lantana the plant sounds a lot like buddleia in the UK, another flowering shrub that’s absolutely everywhere because it’s so invasive. Though your comment about Florida makes me glad I live somewhere where the main invasive species is the butterfly bush rather than the python.

    This sounds great, and very funny. I’ve put it on my list to request as an ILL once libraries start doing those again!

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  5. I know, I know, I – as a lover of funny witty writers – must read this! One day! Lovely review, Melanie that will surely garner more interest for this too little known Aussie writer.

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  6. Ooh, I also like stories/novels that hone in on a particular character and then include them in the background as the main focus shifts to someone else! The story sounds like it might be a little too whimsical for my taste though (based on the anecdote of Aunt Isabelle and the dog, at least), but then again, maybe not? Happy to have this author on my radar in any case, as it sounds like you had such a fun time with the book- great review!

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    • Good luck! It wasn’t at mine here in the U.S., but I bought an e-book copy. Another U.S. reader noted that her library has a copy down in the “not frequently used” collection in the basement. I guess Dark didn’t make the big impression State side like she did in Australia, but I hope you do find Lantana Lane and love it like I do! I’m going to look into more of her work soon.

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  7. Ok you have me convinced, this book sounds perfect for me! I love when the chapters connect characters, that’s the ultimate in fun. And a shitty bush that brings people together? Hell yah!

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    • I confess, Nick totally snorted when he read my “shitty bush” comment. This book was loads of fun, and I kinda want to live on my own Lantana Lane, if I could. I grabbed an e-book copy, and I don’t think it ran for too much.

      Liked by 1 person

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