From internationally bestselling author Kimberley Freeman comes a captivating new novel about a scandalous attraction, a long-forgotten secret, and a place where two women’s lives are changed forever.
It’s 1926 and Violet Armstrong is a waitress at the grand Evergreen Spa Hotel, where Australia’s glitterati are spending a winter vacation. Among the guests who remain are Sam and Flora Honeychurch-Blacks, a wealthy brother and sister ensconced in the hotel for an extended stay. Violet and Sam have an attraction that is as passionate as it is forbidden as the hotel closes down for the winter season. When a snowstorm moves in, trapping them all, no one could have imagined what would unfold. The group must let their secrets be buried by the snow, but all snow melts, exposing the truth beneath…
Eighty-eight years later, Lauren Beck takes a job at a café in the Blue Mountains, built as the first stage of the Evergreen Spa Hotel’s return to grandeur. There she meets Tomas, the Danish architect overseeing the project. As their budding relationship grows, Lauren discovers a series of passionate love letters dating back to 1926 that allude to a whirlwind affair—and a tragic secret. Lauren begins to unravel this long-forgotten mystery, but will discovering the truth finally make her brave enough to take a risk that could change her entire life?
Inspired by elements of her grandmother’s life, Kimberley Freeman has created a complex tale of mystery, heartbreak, and love that will keep you guessing with every twist until the very last page.
|Product dimensions:||5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.30(d)|
About the Author
Kimberley Freeman was born in London and grew up in Brisbane, Australia. She is the bestselling author of Wildflower Hill and Lighthouse Bay and teaches critical and creative writing at the University of Queensland. She lives in Brisbane with an assortment of children and pets. Visit her website at KimberleyFreeman.com.
Read an Excerpt
They keep saying “the body” and Flora thinks this might make her scream and never stop. Speaking in whispers that are not quiet enough, as men do, they say it over and over. “We can’t have the body simply lying in a room here.” “If we put the body in the bathing pool, then it might appear to be a drowning.” “But when they examine the body they’ll find no water in the lungs.” And so on. All the while Flora, locked in the grim prison of her mind, unable to comprehend anything since she discovered the poor, pale remains, shivers against the icy breeze that licks through the open door and stalks the tall eucalypts that line the dark valley.
“If the old man gets wind of this,” Tony says, punctuating his observation with a short puff of his cigarette, “he’ll slam that bank vault shut and Flora here won’t get a thing.”
She wants to say she doesn’t care about the money, that death has never seemed so vast and present and final than in this moment, standing by the remains of a real person who only yesterday breathed and cried. Her lips move, but no sound emerges.
“What do you want to do, Florrie?” Sweetie asks her.
“No point speaking to her,” Tony says, shaking his head in the low light of the hurricane lamp. “She’s going to need a few belts of whiskey to snap her out of it. Look, the only thing we’re certain about is that people can’t know. It must seem to have been an accident. A fall while out walking the bush track.”
“In the snow? Will anybody believe that?”
“Ask yourself what this person’s reputation has been,” he says, and—oh, dear God—he pushes the toe of his patent-leather wing tip gently against the body so that it lifts then sags back onto the floor. “Not really a solid citizen.” Tony seems to realize Flora is listening and checks himself. “Apologies, Florrie. I’m just being practical. You have to trust us.”
Flora nods, in shock, unable to make sense of the situation.
“How far shall we take it, then?” Sweetie asks.
“As close as we can get to the Falls.”
Sweetie nods and reaches down to lift the limp legs in his meaty hands. Flora moves to help, but Tony pushes her away, gently but firmly.
“You wait here. You’re no use to us as you are, and it’s murderously cold. I don’t want two bodies on my hands.” He flicks his cigarette butt out the door ahead of him, and it arcs into the snow, a brief ember soon extinguished.
Flora watches them go. They lumber into the dark and the cold, until they become small figures at the boundary of the garden, then disappear down the stone steps that lead into the valley. Rain has begun to fall, fat drops from the swirling night sky landing silently on the snow. She stands at the door, her fingers turning numb, and watches for their return.
The rain will wash their heavy footprints out of the snow, along with the possible track of limp, dead arms that drag between them. But the rain will also wash over the body, a wet shroud, a sodden burial. Flora puts her head in her hands and weeps, for her shock and her disappointment and her loss and for the horrors that are no doubt to come. Poor Violet, she says over and over in her mind. Poor, poor Violet.
Reading Group Guide
After the tragic death of her older brother, Lauren Beck decides to move from her family home in Tasmania to Evergreen Falls in the Blue Mountains—a place her brother cherished as the site of his last happy memory. In her new life, Lauren begins a relationship with the architect in charge of the refurbishment of the Evergreen Spa Hotel, and together the two discover evidence of a secret love affair from 1926 in the old hotel. In Lauren’s quest to piece together the narrative of the star-crossed lovers from long ago, she also uncovers family secrets of her own and begins to understand that love, while not always easy, will always triumph in the end.
Topics and Questions for Discussion
1. When Lauren discovers that Tomas has inadvertently left behind his key for the west wing of the hotel—the wing of the hotel no one has been in for decades—she decides to let herself in, and in so doing, uncovers Sam’s letters to Violet. What do you think prompts Lauren to do something so bold, so uncharacteristic? Does this show of bravery hint at the Lauren we come to know by the end of the novel?
2. In many ways, Violet Armstrong is the foil character for Lauren Beck. Discuss the differences between the two women. Ultimately, does one character become more like the other? Which character changes the most as the novel unfolds?
3. Many of the characters in the novel are bound by a sense of duty. As Flora explains on page 51, “since the moment [Sam] had come into the world, Flora had been compelled to look after him—both by her parents, who had little time for children, and by her own heart, which loved him immeasurably and fearfully.” Discuss this obligation to others, and consider what it is that motivates each character. Is it love, as Flora says? Consider Flora, Lauren, Clive, and Tomas in your response.
4. When Flora admits to Tony that, had she not been born into her family and position, she would have liked to have been a doctor, Tony laughs and tells Flora she is “being ridiculous” (p. 116). Are Flora and Sam as much trapped in their class position as Violet and Clive? Do you think that any of the characters are happy with their lot in life? Why or why not?
5. Why do you think it was so important to Violet to carve Sam’s initials into the rock by Lovers Cave? What significance does the permanence of his name in stone have for her? Does it become an epitaph of sorts after Sam’s overdose?
6. Discuss the location of the story—both in 1926 and 2014. How does the setting of the Evergreen Spa Hotel influence decisions the characters make? What is it about this location that helps people fall in love and confront tragedy?
7. The character of Miss Zander is based on a real woman who managed a hotel where Kimberley Freeman’s grandmother worked in the 1920s. How does her characterization match or differ from your understanding of social attitudes during that time? How does she compare with the other women in the novel? Consider the moment she counsels Violet to live her own life: “Really, I get quite tired of the way girls get carried along on the wills of others so easily” (p. 262).
8. “Even with the ballroom divided in half and the fire roaring in the grate, the cold seemed close, gathering in the corners of the room and up in the high ceiling” (p. 269). Does the onset of the winter storm parallel the downward spiral of any characters in the story? Is there anyone in the novel who has not been altered after the storm passes through?
9. Do you think Flora made the right decision about covering up Sam’s death? Do you think she would have been able to financially support Violet and the baby had she not gone along with Tony’s plan? Would you have made a similar decision in her place?
10. Revisit the moment Flora discovers Sam’s cold body (p. 316). Do you think deep down Flora is relieved that Sam is “free from the torment of his withdrawal at last” (p. 316)?
11. “Family secrets had such power” (p. 330), Lauren says, and she realizes that she doesn’t want to live in denial any longer. Do you think that the weight of family secrets oppresses the characters in the novel? Are the ones who survive the ones who are able to overcome the weight of these secrets?
12. The opening scene in the Prologue gets repeated once Sam’s body has been discovered on page 343. Rereading this scene a second time, what has changed? Do you find Tony’s and Sweetie’s responses to Flora and her deceased brother more callous on a second read? Why do you think the author chose to repeat this scene for us? Does it send a message about the characters?
13. Is the theme of the novel one of the horrors of love, or the triumph of love despite tragedy?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. The love between Sam and Violet is forbidden simply because they come from very different worlds. In 1926, it would have been difficult for Sam to have convinced his family that his love for Violet superseded social norms, although such unions were not altogether unheard of. Host a movie night with your book club and watch the popular PBS show Downton Abbey. Are the two worlds—the servants’ and the Granthams’—so drastically different? As a group, discuss how the employees and the guests at the Evergreen Spa Hotel live lives similar to the characters in Downton Abbey. Does the love affair between Sam and Violet have a counterpart in the show?
2. Lauren’s discovery of the love letters from 1926 set in motion the unfolding of Sam and Violet’s narrative and the love story between Lauren’s brother, Adam, and Anton. The letters in some ways also released Lauren from the bonds of her mother and allowed her the freedom to fall in love with Tomas. Look through old photographs and items that you have from your parents, grandparents, or even great-grandparents. What story do these items tell? Have a “show-and-tell” night with your book club. Share the family items and discuss how they tell a story about the people you came from.
3. Sam’s death was so tragic in part because it could have been avoided. Opiates still have a strong hold in the world today. Learn more about the effects of these drugs by watching the documentary Raw Opium (2010) with your book club. Afterward, discuss why you think Sam was so taken by this drug. What void did it fill in his life? Do you think he would ever have been able to have a clean, meaningful life with Violet? Why or why not?
4. Author Kimberley Freeman has written other novels that move through time and place like Evergreen Falls. Read her previous book, Ember Island, with your book club. What do the two books tell you about Kimberley Freeman’s prose style? Do the characters in Ember Island resemble the characters in Evergreen Falls?
A Conversation with Kimberley Freeman
As with your last novel, Ember Island, you chose to set Evergreen Falls at two very different moments in history: 1926 and 2014. How do the two narratives speak to each other in Evergreen Falls? Do you think the present informs the past as much as the past informs the present?
I am endlessly fascinated by the idea that the past and the present are not quite so neatly separated as we might think, and that idea comes out time and again in my work. We are all influenced by what has gone before and pass those influences on down the line to our own children. And yes, I do believe that what we choose to think and do in the present can influence how our past is shaped as we talk about it in the future. Evergreen Falls was inspired by reading the memoir my grandmother wrote before she died twenty years ago. I had never read it before, but it had fifty very detailed pages about her time as a waitress in posh hotels in Sydney in the 1920s. I learned so much about my grandmother and gained an enormous respect for her and the difficulties she faced. It made me so proud to be her granddaughter, and it also helped me understand my own mother better.
The Examiner wrote that “the complexities of character and female relationships make [Ember Island] very rich and emotional.” Were any of the complex characters in Evergreen Falls inspired by people in your life?
I love what Anthony Trollope said: of course he drew characters from life, but you’d “never recognize a pig in a sausage.” Like most writers, I am a committed people watcher. I am interested by all kinds of people and their relationships, and I watch them and turn it over in my mind in a kind of detached way that I sometimes worry borders on sociopathic! But as I have said above, I drew a lot from my grandmother’s memoir, and some of the characters are directly lifted from it, especially the guests at the hotel. The opera singer, the beauty queen, the brother and sister from the wealthy family. Violet is nothing like Grandma, though, or at least I hope not! One doesn’t like to think about the grandparents having an opium-fueled sexy affair!
Tell us about the research that went into the making of this novel. Was it a lot or a little? Describe the project of this novel from conception to completion.
I wanted to set a book in the Blue Mountains, in a place where there was snow, because I had the idea of the hotel snowed in and bad stuff happening: kind of like The Shining but without the supernatural. As soon as I mentioned it to people, they started offering me research advice. The first piece of advice was from my agent here in Australia, Selwa Anthony, who suggested I look up the Hydro Majestic Hotel in the Blue Mountains, as it was an old hotel that was being renovated. I drove up the mountains and climbed over the hurricane fence and wandered around the beautiful old crumbling hotel for an hour. The view from the back fence out over the Megalong Valley was incredible, and I knew it hadn’t changed for hundreds of years, that many other people had taken in that view before me and many more would in the future. It was incredibly inspiring.
Then when I mentioned the story to my mother, she told me firmly that I needed to read Grandma’s memoir, and determinedly unpacked an old box and found a thick wad of typewritten pages. Grandma had worked as a waitress at the Wentworth—Sydney’s finest hotel—in the 1920s. The memoir was full of the kind of information I simply wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else: the dresses, the dance parties, the attitudes. All of it in such rich language and detail. Every dress Grandma describes in the memoir—hers and the guests’—made it into the manuscript. I had a research assistant to help me with other bits and pieces, but Grandma’s memoir was a gift, and I wrote the book very quickly.
I always plot the novels out in advance, which saves a lot of time and allows me to plan for the key turning points. When I wrote the prologue, I already knew it would appear in the novel about two-thirds of the way through, so in a way I was writing toward that terrible scene from the start. It gives the plot such momentum if you know exactly where you’re going. But as I do in all my books, I try to give the characters lots of problems to solve. It makes them grow and become more interesting.
Do you agree that a theme of the novel is the burden—and freedom—of love? If not, what would you name as a major theme of the novel?
Yes, it is definitely about the burden and freedom of love. How love makes us responsible for each other in a way, which is perfect because we do all need each other. But that love with the right person means they take responsibility for you in some ways, too, letting you be free to become all that you can be.
Is Evergreen Falls a commentary on social class and position?
Everything I write is! I grew up very poor. My dad was on welfare: he was a drinker, and we never had anything. Even in these days where we aren’t supposed to have a class system, I see social inequality everywhere. I suppose I’ll never grow out of it.
Who is your favorite character in Evergreen Falls and why?
I love Flora because she tries so hard to do the right thing. She’s the person who is often overlooked because she’s not beautiful nor charming, but she is the person whose heart is true and whose mind is strong. I would like to be more like Flora. I have a horrible feeling I’m more like Violet: a bit flighty and vain.
Do you think any of the characters live happily ever after? Specifically, do Flora and Violet overcome their grief over Sam’s death? Is that even possible?
I do think it’s possible. I mentioned my father’s alcoholism earlier, and he died from it while he was still only in his forties. I adored him, and he was gone by the time I was twenty. But I overcame it and have gone on to live a wonderful life despite his negative influences. Substance abuse really is an awful thing, and there’s a sense that when you love somebody who is addicted to something, you always know you will lose them eventually, so you keep a little bit of steel in your heart. It’s like Neil Young said, “Every junkie is like a setting sun.”
In my mind, Violet and Clive had a good life, and Flora and her doctor were blissfully happy.
There is much overlap in the fear over Adam and his illness and the fear that Sam will never stop smoking opium. Does this type of craft decision imply something bigger about human nature, about our fears of letting people be who they need to be?
I think it’s more about how that responsibility to those we love, which I cited earlier, doesn’t guarantee us anything. We can’t keep people safe just by loving them. In a way, to love somebody is to always fear losing them. This story dramatizes that a little more keenly than most of us have to feel it.
Can you tell us anything about your next project?
I am writing a novel (nearly finished) set in the 1950s. It starts in a girls boarding school when a new girl arrives who is wild and fierce and brilliant, and she turns lives upside down. She and her two friends do something terrible, which they have to spend the rest of their lives atoning for. I LOVE it.
What advice do you have for aspiring young writers?
Read a lot, then write a lot, then read and write some more. Writing is like mining: nobody breaks the surface and finds gold. There’s a lot of dross that has to be gotten out of the way first.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Evergreen Falls is a novel about two women of two different generations - Lauren Beck of modern times and Violet Armstrong of the 1920's. Set in 1926, in the Blue Mountains of Australia, the base of the tale is a hotel/spa named Evergreen. Lauren works at a coffee shop in the Blue Mountains, running from a difficult past and struggling to maintain her independence. That's when she meets a handsome architect named Tomas who is refurbishing the Evergreen, now in decay. When Tomas invites Lauren to explore the old hotel with him, they stumble upon some old love letters signed only by the initials SHB to an unnamed woman. Enchanted by the mysterious letters, Lauren decides to delve deeper into their history and try to learn the identity of the two lovers. As the story slowly unfolds, her relationship with Tomas grows richer, more profound. The story switches to the past, 1926, where the reader is introduced to Violet who comes to work at the new and elegant Evergreen as a means to financially support her ill mother in Sydney. Her time at the Evergreen is not always easy and soon tragedy and hardship affect the staff and customers. Social class, prejudices, forgiveness, and understanding are all themes. Bit by bit, the two women's secrets are revealed, as are their individual strengths and weaknesses. Rich characters, an indepth plot, and the fascinating setting made for quite the page turner. such rich and fully-rounded characters. Romance with a touch of mystery made for an exciting tale. I devoured the novel in two settings! Another stunning novel by Kimberley Freeman and Simon and Schuster! Thank you to the author and publisher. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Lauren Beck is thirty years old, but her mother has always done everything in her power to keep her safe because she is afraid something would happen to Lauren. And, that means that Lauren has never really been able to live her life and do as she wishes. But now she has moved away from home, taken a job at the Blue Mountains café. She has also met Tomas, a danish architect that is overseeing the Evergreen Spa Hotel's renovations and through a series of events she finds in the hotel steamy love letters from the 1920s. I have weakness for books with parallel storylines, so when I saw this gorgeous book on Edelweiss and read the blurb was it an easy decision to request the book. The book made me think of Kate Morton's books, with a secret in the past that is being revealed. I did find the story a bit predictable, but nevertheless I still enjoyed reading the book. I preferred the present time when it comes to the two different storylines. I just found Lauren's relationship with Tomas more interesting than Violets with Sam back in the 20s. Mostly because Sam was just a very weak character and Violet deserved someone better than him. Most of the time Sam just made me annoyed with his love declaration for Violet, I can see why she was so taken with him because she was swept up in his passion. But a future with him, with him being rich and her poor was really just a big dream. But I think that for a moment, for some time she just closed her eyes for the truth and let her be swept of her feet. In the end I think everlasting worked out for the best for her. Lauren storyline was more interesting, yes I guessed most of what she discovered before she did it, but I liked her, I liked that she was for the first time standing on her own two feet's, finding love and defying her mother. And, I love the ending, Lauren confronting her mother and father about a past misdeed against her brother. So in the end I want to say that the book was good, predictable sometimes, but nevertheless enjoyable to read. I received this copy from the publisher through Edelweiss in return for an honest review! Thank you!
Highly recommended!! Another wonderful historical novel by Kimberley Freeman. The novel includes addiction, fear, cruelty, devotion, love for a brother, a devoted sister, a snowstorm, finding and losing work, upper class and lower class conflict and barriers, bravery, and more. This book is well worth your time and money. Excellent!! The book deserves an A+++++
Very good story. Kept me up late, wanting to read more