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.
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.