THE PERFECT READ FOR THE HOLIDAY SEASON
It's time for the annual holiday letter from the Gillespie family....
New from the author of The House of Memories
For the past thirty-three years, Angela Gillespie has sent to friends and family around the world an end-of-the-year letter titled “Hello from the Gillespies.” It’s always been cheery and full of good news. This year, Angela surprises herself—she tells the truth....
The Gillespies are far from the perfect family that Angela has made them out to be. Her husband is coping badly with retirement. Her thirty-two-year-old twins are having career meltdowns. Her third daughter, badly in debt, can’t stop crying. And her ten-year-old son spends more time talking to his imaginary friend than to real ones.
Without Angela, the family would fall apart. But when Angela is taken away from them in a most unexpected manner, the Gillespies pull together—and pull themselves together—in wonderfully surprising ways…
READERS GUIDE INCLUDED
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.50(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Monica McInerney is the award-winning, international bestselling author of ten previous novels: The House of Memories, Lola's Secret, At Home with the Templetons, Those Faraday Girls, Odd One Out, Family Baggage, The Alphabet Sisters, Spin the Bottle, Upside Down Inside Out, and A Taste for It. She grew up in Australia and has split her time between Australia and Ireland for twenty years.
Read an Excerpt
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***
Copyright © 2014 Monica McInerney
HELLO FROM THE GILLESPIES
It was December first. Angela Gillespie did as she’d done on that date for the past thirty-three years. She sat down at her desk before dinner and prepared to write her annual Christmas letter.
After doing so many, she had the process down to a fine art. It was a matter of leafing through her diary to recall the year’s main events, writing an update about each member of the family—herself, her husband and their four children—attaching a photo or two, then sending it off.
She’d written her first Christmas letter the same year she was married. Transformed from single traveler Angela Richardson of Forest Hill, London, to newlywed Mrs. Nick Gillespie of Errigal, a sheep station in outback South Australia, she couldn’t have been further from her old life, in distance or lifestyle. She’d decided an annual letter was the best way of keeping in contact with her friends and relatives back home. As the years went by, she’d added Nick’s relatives, their neighbors and her new Australian friends to the mailing list. It now went to more than a hundred people worldwide.
Her early letters had been in traditional form, typed on an old typewriter on their big kitchen table, then taken into Hawker, the nearest town (almost an hour’s drive away), photocopied and posted. It was much easier these days, the letters sent instantly via the wonder of e-mail. Even so, she still printed out paper copies and kept them stored in the filing cabinet beside the desk.
She knew the children found the whole idea mortifying—they, and Nick, had stopped reading the letters long ago—but perhaps in years to come they might like to see them. Angela hoped so. She secretly thought of them as historical documents. All the facts of their lives were there, after all, recorded in brief dispatches. She’d read back through them all only recently.
She’d written about her first years of marriage: “Nick and I couldn’t be happier! I am loving my new life on the land too. I can now name five species of native birds by their calls alone, four varieties of gum trees by their bark, and last week I drove a tractor for the first time. There’s hope for this London-born city girl yet!” She wrote about the arrival of the twins less than a year after their wedding day: “We already knew it would be twins, but it was still an incredible surprise to see two of them. One is so dark; the other is so fair; both are so beautiful. We’re naming them after my grandmothers, Victoria and Genevieve.” Three years later, she wrote about Lindy’s arrival: “A third girl! Another beautiful brunette. The twins can’t wait to get their hands on their new little playmate. I get to name her again (Nick and I struck a deal on our wedding night: I name any girls; he names any boys). I’ve chosen my favorite name from Shakespeare—Rosalind. The twins are already calling her Lindy!” The next two decades of updates were about outback station life, family holidays, academic results, hobbies, pets and funny incidents involving the girls, each report chatty and cheery.
Eleven years ago, she’d included a piece of news that she suspected had shocked her readers as much as it had her. At the age of forty-four, she was pregnant again. She’d thought she was menopausal. She’d discovered she was almost five months pregnant when a routine visit to the doctor led to an unexpected pregnancy test and an even more unexpected result. Two days after the birth, breaking with tradition, she’d sent out a special midyear e-mail to everyone on her mailing list. It’s a boy!!! Our first son!!! Nick gets to name one at last!!!!
She’d used far too many exclamation marks, she noticed afterward. Postbirth endorphins at work, she presumed. Either that or delayed shock at the names Nick had chosen for their son. At her hospital bedside, he’d confessed he had promised his long-deceased and sentimental grandfather that he would name any future son after the first Gillespies—two male cousins—to come from Ireland to Australia in the 1880s. Which was why their fourth (and definitely final) child was baptized Ignatius Sean Aloysius Joseph Gillespie. One of Nick’s friends had been very amused. “He’ll either be the first Australian Pope or end up running a New York speakeasy.”
At first Angela tried to insist everyone call him Ignatius, but it was a losing battle. She’d long realized that the shortening of names was a national pastime in Australia. He was Iggy within a day of his baptism. A week later, even that was shortened. He’d been called Ig ever since.
She could hear his voice now, floating down the hall from the kitchen. The homestead was big, with six bedrooms, two living rooms and a high-ceilinged dining room, all linked by the long hall, but sound still carried well. Ig and Lindy were playing—attempting to play—a game of Scrabble before dinner. Angela could also hear the faint strains of Irish music coming from the dining room. She knew Nick was in there working on his family research. Over the past six months, the large polished table had slowly become covered in stacks of hardback books on aspects of Australian and Irish history. Not just books, but also shipping records, hand-drawn family trees and photographs. They weren’t just in the dining room either. The office too. In fact, every surface in the house had started to accumulate history journals or family tree paraphernalia of one form or another. The previous week Angela had searched for her car keys for nearly an hour before finding them beneath a pile of ancestry magazines.
Beside her, the six o’clock news jingle sounded from the radio. Angela blinked. She’d better get a move on if she was to send her letter tonight. She clicked on her template document, with its border of Christmas trees already in place, along with her traditional opening line in Christmassy red and green letters (“Hello from the Gillespies!”) and equally festive farewell (“A Very Merry Christmas from Angela and all the gang!”). All she had to do now was fill in the blank middle section with her family news.
One minute passed, then another. The words just wouldn’t come. Perhaps she should break with tradition and choose the photos first. She opened the folder of digital shots she’d collected over the past twelve months. She usually sent a group one, but the family hadn’t all been together and in front of a camera for nearly two years. Could she just send separate and recent photos of each of them instead?
She clicked through the possibilities, starting with the twins. No, Victoria wouldn’t be happy with any of those going into wide circulation. Wide being the operative word, unfortunately. Not that Angela would ever say it to her, but Victoria had put on a lot of weight since she’d moved to Sydney nearly two years earlier. Comfort eating, Angela suspected, after the stressful time she’d had in her work as a radio producer. She still looked lovely, though, Angela thought. Like a pretty, rosy-cheeked milkmaid, with her blond hair curling to her shoulders, and her blue eyes. But she might not appreciate Angela’s sending out photos just at the moment.
As for Genevieve—the most recent photo she’d e-mailed from New York wasn’t really suitable for public viewing either. For a hairdresser, and especially a hairdresser working in the glamorous American film and TV world, Genevieve took a very devil-may-care approach to her own hair. She looked like she was on the way to a fancy dress party in this latest shot, her newly acquired bright blue dreadlocks tied in a loose knot on top of her head, her dark eyes heavy with eyeliner, as usual, and alight with mischief, also as usual. She’d explained it all in her e-mail. A hairdresser friend had needed to practice dreadlock extensions for a film she was working on and Genevieve had volunteered as the guinea pig. It’s only temporary, promise! she’d written. Thank God for that! Angela had e-mailed straight back. Ig said to tell you that you look like a feral Smurf. Genevieve had been very amused by that. Genevieve was very amused by most things.
There were several recent photos of Lindy, but unfortunately she looked like a prisoner on the run in most of them, wild-eyed and panicky. The camera really didn’t lie, Angela thought. Poor Lindy was a bag of nerves these days. Her general air of disarray wasn’t helped by the fact she’d taken to wearing her long brown hair in two messy bunches, like a little girl. It was the in fashion in Melbourne circles, she’d told Angela. Which circles? Angela had wondered. Kindergarten? She hadn’t said it aloud. She’d learned the hard way over the years that there was no teasing Lindy about her appearance. Or about anything, really.
At least there were dozens of photos of Ig to choose from. He loved being in front of a camera. But none of them was suitable either. His dark red curls badly needed a cut and she hadn’t gotten around to it yet, deciding to wait until Genevieve and her scissors were home again. In the meantime, he looked more like her fourth daughter than her only son. If she attached one of those photos to her Christmas letter, she’d receive a disapproving e-mail from Nick’s aunt Celia. Celia had very strict ideas about suitable haircuts for boys. Celia had very strict ideas about everything.
As for recent photos of herself and Nick together . . . It felt like they’d hardly been in the same room for months, let alone in front of the same camera. She turned and looked at the back wall of the office. Thirty-two photos of her and Nick looked back at her. The photos were another tradition she had started the year they were married. An annual photo of the two of them in the same position, standing in front of the homestead gate, the big stone house behind them, that huge sky above them, all space and light. Each year she’d sent one print back home to her parents in London and framed another for this wall. As the years had gone by, the children had appeared in the photos with them too. Angela stood now and looked at each of them in turn. Not at her own image, but at Nick standing to her left in every photo, six foot one to her five foot five.
He hadn’t changed much over the years, as tall, lean and tanned in the most recent photo as he was in the earlier ones. She reached for the first photo, studying it closely, clearly remembering this early moment of their married lives. It had taken them eight tries to get the self-timing camera to work properly. They’d been about to give up when it clicked. She was looking straight at the camera, wearing a cornflower-blue cotton dress the same color as her eyes, her hair a mass of black curls, her smile wide, if on the verge of frozen, after so many attempts to get the shot. Beside her, Nick was dressed in dark jeans and a white shirt, the sleeves rolled up. He wasn’t only smiling but laughing, completely relaxed, indulging her, gazing down at her with such amusement. Such pride. Such love.
She felt that jolt inside her again. Like a sudden pain, a pang. She still couldn’t put an exact name on it. Was it sadness? Fear? Confusion? All of those and something else. It was the closest she’d felt to homesickness since she was child. A longing for someone. The feeling of missing them, wanting them so badly that it physically hurt. It was how she had felt about Nick for months now. She couldn’t understand it, no matter how much she tried. How could it be that her husband could be physically so close to her every day, beside her in bed every night, yet so far away, so distant, so—
“Ha! I win again!”
The cheer from the kitchen interrupted her anxious thoughts. They would get her nowhere; she knew that already. She also needed to concentrate on her letter. She decided to forget about sending individual photos. She’d do what she’d done with her previous letter and attach a family group shot from a few years ago. She hoped no one would notice she, Nick and the girls all looked younger and that Ig appeared to be shrinking rather than growing.
Back at the computer, a chime alerted her to an incoming e-mail. She opened it, secretly glad of another distraction. Thank you, Angela, our Outback Angel!!!! the subject line read. It was from an elderly couple in Chicago, just home after their once-in-a-lifetime trip to Australia, including a week staying on Errigal.
Angela had joined the outback station stay program thirteen years earlier, after the three girls had left home, and before Ig arrived. It had initially been a financial decision. The drought had hit them hard; the wool industry had collapsed. Like all their neighbors, they had needed some extra income. While she’d often helped out with the practical side of station life, Nick had never discussed the station’s finances with her, despite her frequent requests to be involved. Angela had known, though, that every extra dollar would be useful. To her own surprise, she’d discovered she didn’t have a flair for just hosting visitors and tour guiding, but for promotion too. She’d joined forces with local tourism associations, advertising Errigal’s isolation and beauty wherever she could. She’d done the occasional interview on the radio, in newspapers, even once on TV. “The English rose of the Australian outback,” the interviewer had called her.
She’d started small, doing up the old governess’s quarters that adjoined the homestead, welcoming couples and families, one or two a month, from March until November. The numbers had grown as each year passed, expanding to include school groups who were happy to sleep rough in the shearers’ quarters if they weren’t in use by Errigal’s contract shearers. At last count, nearly five hundred people had stayed with them on Errigal, not just from all over Australia but from overseas too—Europe, Asia, America—all seeking a taste of life on an isolated outback station with Angela as their guide.
While Nick had been busy elsewhere on the station, moving stock, maintaining their property, she’d taken her guests on long drives through the empty landscape, pointing out not just Wilpena Pound and Rawnsley Bluff, two landmarks of the Flinders Ranges, but the smaller, less well-known peaks and valleys too. Everything had a name and a story attached. Over the years she had heard them all from Nick, from their Aboriginal stockmen, from their neighbors. She’d loved sharing not only the stories, but all the statistics too. Their property was 170,000 acres, 250 square miles. At its peak, before the drought, it had been home to 10,000 sheep. Huge numbers, but they still took up only a tiny part of this enormous country.
Even after Ig’s surprise arrival, Angela had continued to host visitors, bringing him along in his car seat in the 4WD. She’d taken her guests to all the best lookout spots, enjoying their delight in photographing not just the vast, empty scenery around them, but also the kangaroos, emus and lizards. They were a part of day-to-day life for her now, but still a wonder to overseas visitors. She’d shared stories of the area’s Aboriginal history, showing her guests rock carvings and explaining stories of the Dreaming, about the Adnyamathanha people who had first lived in this area. She’d talked about the Irish Gillespies who had settled here in the 1880s, taken them into the now-disused woolshed, let them feel the wooden rails and floorboards made smooth from years of lanolin-rich fleeces. If it was the right time of the year weather-wise, sometimes they even camped out under the stars. She’d learned all the constellations over the years, the Southern Cross, the Pointers, different stars from the ones she’d known growing up in England.
Reading the comments in the visitors’ books always brought back many memories. “This place is one of the world’s best-kept secrets, please stop advertising!” “A once-in-a-lifetime stay, thank you so, so, so much.” Ig was often mentioned too. “What a cute kid! Come visit us in the US someday, Ig!” He’d featured in many of their guests’ photos over the years as well, she knew, looking the part of the wild outback kid with his mop of hair, his shorts and T-shirts no matter the weather and, more often than not, his bare and dusty feet too.
This couple from Chicago had been among her favorite guests. Everything they’d seen, from the smallest bird to the most vivid red sunset over the nearby Chace Range, had been declared “absolutely one hundred percent awesome.” Their e-mail was as enthusiastic. We miss you, Angela! Chicago is too noisy for us now. We miss Errigal and the bird sounds and that huge, huge sky, and the colors and the quiet and most of all we miss you looking after us, spoiling us every hour of every day! She was tempted to read on, but there wasn’t time now. She had work to do. A letter to write.
It did feel like work for once.
Come on, Angela, she thought. Get started. She moved her chair closer to the computer. Her fingers hesitated over the keys. Just do it, she told herself, feeling a headache start to pulse. Get it written, get it sent out, and then you can go and lie down. Even if only for a few minutes.
She finally started, summoning the usual cheery tone she used for her letters, recalling opening sentences from previous years, hoping no one would notice they’d been recycled.
Yes, it’s Angela back again! Can you believe twelve months have passed since I last wrote to you? Where has the time gone? Everything is great with us, after another action-packed and fun-filled year for all the Gillespies. I hope it’s been a good year for all of you too!
She stopped there and thought back over the past year. She thought of all her Christmas letters over the decades. All those bright, happy letters, putting the best possible spin on their lives, making it sound as though the Gillespies were the luckiest, loveliest, most successful, well-balanced, supportive family in all Australia, and possibly even the world. She had always skipped over any troubles. Avoided mention of any tensions. Edited out any sticky subjects. It had felt like the right thing to do, even if she knew they sometimes sounded too good to be true.
She felt her headache pulse faster and rubbed her temple automatically. It wasn’t just the headaches that had kept striking with regularity lately. At the age of fifty-five, something else had started to happen. She’d talked about it with her neighbor Joan, a former nurse and also a station wife. In her mid-sixties, straight-talking and kind, Joan was her best friend in the area, the one person who had genuinely welcomed her when she arrived, a wide-eyed, secretly homesick English girl. They didn’t often meet in person—they lived nearly seventy kilometers apart—but they spoke on the phone regularly, often daily. Angela had shared her worries with Joan several weeks earlier.
“Is it a secret symptom of life after menopause, one that no one talks about?” she’d asked.
“I’m still not sure what ‘it’ is, exactly. You need to be clearer with me. Have you developed blue spots? A forked tongue?”
Angela tried to summarize it. “It’s like a constant urge to tell the truth.”
“Oh, that!” Joan said, laughing. “That’s just wisdom setting in. You’re losing patience with beating around the bush, you mean? You want to get straight to the point all the time? I always feel like that these days. Go for it, love! Let it rip! Tell the truth! It’s good for you.”
But how could she change overnight? Angela had thought afterward. Not after years of being the person in her family who smoothed things over, kept everyone happy, kept their family show on the road. So she’d still tried to be the good, kind, polite, well-mannered woman she’d been brought up to be. The Angela that Nick had married. The mother her children knew. The welcoming host and tour guide. The neighbor who could be relied on to help out, lend a hand . . .
But the new, peculiar sensation wouldn’t go away. It truly was starting to feel as if there were another Angela inside her, struggling to get out. As if the headaches were a symptom of it, evidence of the “real” her trying to break through the “polite” her. A growing urge to be different, to go back to being the Angela she was when she first came backpacking to Australia all those years before. Adventurous Angela. Full of hope and anticipation Angela. Not the Angela she had become. Ordinary Angela.
She turned and gazed out of the office window behind her. It was still bright outside, but the shadow cast by the deep veranda allowed her to see her reflection. Her head of black curls was now threaded with silver. Her once-pale skin had seen too much sun since she’d arrived nearly thirty-four—how could it possibly be so many?—years ago. She took off her reading glasses and leaned forward. People used to tell her she had beautiful eyes. Such an unusual blue. Nick had often told her they were the first thing he’d noticed the night they met. But after three decades of squinting into bright sunlight, even they seemed to have faded. She still noticed the strength of the light here. At home in England, the weather had been soft, misty, blurred around the edges. Here, the weather was a wild creature, fierce, untamed, with a mind of its own. Oh, you must love all that sunshine, English school friends had written over the years. Aren’t you the jammy thing! Weren’t you in the right place at the right time when that property heir dropped in for a beer!
She’d told the story so many times, not just to neighbors and friends, but to her station stay visitors too. They always wanted to know how an Englishwoman like her had come to live in the outback. Everyone seemed to love the whole romance of her and Nick’s first meeting, the sheer chance of it. There she was, a twenty-two-year-old English backpacker filling in behind the bar for one night for a friend who’d gotten food poisoning. Nick was twenty-eight, from South Australia, in Sydney for one night to go to a big rugby game. He’d arranged to meet friends, got lost and walked into her pub to ask for directions.
She still remembered her first sight of him. Was it fate or destiny or sheer chance that she had looked up just as he came in the door? She’d been reading Wuthering Heights at the time, her head full of thoughts of Heathcliff. It was as if an Australian version had walked in. It wasn’t his looks or his height. He wasn’t conventionally handsome. It was the energy coming off him. A vitality. She’d have guessed even before he told her that his job was a physical, outdoors one. It wasn’t just his tan. He looked fit, strong too. His hair was as dark as hers, his eyes a deep brown. Irish coloring, she’d learned later. She’d helped him with the directions, even drawing a rough map on a beer coaster. On impulse, she offered him a drink on the house. He accepted, but only if he could buy her one at the same time. She was due a break. Over their drinks, they talked. And talked. And laughed. He noticed the time first. He had to go or he’d miss the match. They arranged to meet for a drink after it.
They spent more hours together that night, more talking, more laughing, the physical attraction growing between them by the minute. He wasn’t like any man she’d met before, in England or Australia. He was curious. Thoughtful. Clever, but he wore it lightly. If his eyes were a window to the soul, she could tell he was kind, intelligent, amused, admiring. He walked her back to her hostel. She added good manners to his list of qualities. They didn’t kiss that night. They met for lunch at his hotel the next day, kissed as they were saying good-bye and were still kissing twenty minutes later. She flew to South Australia a week later to see him again. That was when she learned he wasn’t just a farmer but heir to an enormous property on the edge of the outback. “Oh, it’s so romantic!” her friends said. “He’s like an Australian Mr. Darcy!“
They were married within a year. She was pregnant three months later. The twins arrived a week before their first anniversary.
“A marriage written in the stars,” her father said in his effusive speech after their wedding in the cathedral in Adelaide. It was a Gillespie family tradition to be married there, even though Angela had secretly hoped they might get married in the tiny chapel on the Errigal property.But how would everyone fit? Nick had said, smiling. After a moment she’d smiled back. She’d been joking, she said. But she hadn’t. She’d loved that tiny chapel from the first time she saw it. She wasn’t very religious; that wasn’t what appealed to her. She’d loved it as a beautiful building filled with history. The old golden stone, the hand-carved wood, the pews polished to a high gleam by all the farmers and their families who had traveled miles over the years to meet there and pray . . .
It wasn’t a chapel anymore. It had long been deconsecrated. Fifteen years earlier, an electrical storm blew off a section of its roof and knocked out a side wall. It was now little more than a ruin. Even so, she liked to walk across the paddocks to it as often as she could, even for just a few minutes of peace and quiet. She’d sit on one of the remaining pews, look up at the open sky and simply listen. She’d hear the wind slinking through the leaves of the gum trees. The galahs with their squawks, like scratches down a blackboard, a sound to make you wince but one she’d grown to love. If she sat very still, she’d hear more. Lizards skittering across the stone wall beside her. The distant rusty grind of the windmill sails. Sometimes, rarely, the sound of a car on the dirt road, tires on loose gravel. Eventually, as she became stiller, she would hear her own breathing, slow breaths in, slow breaths out . . .
Then always, before too long, a voice. Or two voices. Calling for her across the paddocks. “Mum?”“Mum?” She’d wait for the second call, able to tell even from this distance whether it was urgent or not, whether she could walk back slowly across the scratchy soil, or whether she should run. Only twice had she needed to run, both in recent years, to rescue Ig from physical predicaments. He’d gotten his head trapped in the rungs of a kitchen chair one day. Another time, he was up on top of the pantry cupboard and couldn’t get down. It had been so different raising a boy. Her three daughters had never gotten themselves into so many physical scrapes, had they? If they had, she’d conveniently forgotten them. But having a son—her intense love for Ig—had taken her by surprise in so many ways. What was that joke? “If your mother tells you that she doesn’t have a favorite child, then you’re not her favorite child.” That didn’t apply to Angela, though. She didn’t have any favorites. She loved her four children equally. Of course she did.
She stood and walked over to the window. She couldn’t see much from this side of the homestead, but she knew what was out there. The lawn they tried valiantly to keep green for at least a month or two each year, using water that was always so precious. The old stone toolshed with the blue wooden door that now housed her secondhand pottery wheel and drying kiln. She’d taken up pottery as a hobby in recent months, for reasons she still didn’t quite understand herself. Beside it, the rosebush that Nick had planted for her as a surprise first anniversary present, which still miraculously produced bright red blooms, despite the droughts and heat waves it had endured. All the other station buildings, the woolshed, the shearers’ quarters, the machinery shed. Beyond the station itself, the vast paddocks that one day soon would sprout mining equipment, exploration vehicles . . .
Farther away again, kilometer after kilometer of long, straight dirt roads, with the curving hills of the Chace Range visible on one side, views across to the Flinders Ranges and the distinctive crater shape of Wilpena Pound on the other. Then tarred main roads, then wide highways leading to small towns and to a city, eventually. But overwhelmingly, all around their old stone homestead, there was nothing but wide-open space, for as far as—
“Don’t be mean!”
The voice—Ig’s—made her jump. The game of Scrabble was obviously over. An argument had begun. What was the trigger this time, Angela wondered. Lindy teasing him about his long hair, perhaps? Angela wished she wouldn’t do that. At twenty-nine, she really was old enough to know better. Or was it about whose turn it was to set the table? Even at the age of ten, Ig spent more time arguing about children’s rights than it would take him to do the task in question. Lindy seemed to have decided she was a guest here, not a family member with housekeeping obligations. In less than a fortnight, the twins would be back home too, arriving with their jumble of suitcases, their constant chatter, taking over the house with their two big personalities. They were powerful enough apart, unstoppable together. Genevieve had put it into words once, at just the age of five. “You can never win, Mum. It’s two of us against one of you.”
Not only them. Nick’s aunt Celia would be here soon as well, trailing a cloud of too-strong musky perfume, her sharp eyes noting every fault in Angela’s housekeeping, her over-cultivated voice airing her ever-ready opinions about the children.
And Nick? Once, they would have laughed about it all together. She’d have had his support, his listening ear. It would have been the two of them united, his wit and humor helping her cope with anything life threw at her. But now?
Her head started to throb again, just under her left ear. The headaches had started five months ago. She’d waged a quiet war against them since then. Her doctor in Port Augusta had sent her for different tests, even a brain scan. She’d been given the all clear, but the headaches had continued. Since then, she’d tried medication, massage, acupuncture, to no avail. She’d talk to her doctor about it again in the new year. There was too much else happening now. Not just the twins coming home, Aunt Celia’s arrival, Christmas to organize. The Gillespies were also this year’s hosts of the mid-December woolshed party. The station families took turns hosting an annual gathering, and it was the Gillespies’ turn again. Angela had been planning it for weeks. Their freezer was already full of party food, and there was a delivery due the next day of all the rented tables, chairs, glasses and crockery.
No, there definitely wasn’t time now to worry about a headache. It would have to wait until January. Perhaps she could combine a visit to the specialist in Adelaide with a shopping trip. She could even treat herself to a nice solo lunch afterward in one of the restaurants near the river. She could sit there with a book and a glass of wine, take as long as she liked. Perhaps she could even stay the night in Adelaide before the four-hour journey home again. Yes, that’s exactly what she’d do. Have some peace and quiet. What did they call it in the magazines? Having “me time”?
But not tonight. There was no time for any of that tonight. She had a Christmas letter to write and send. She turned back to the computer, fighting that overwhelmed feeling again. She thought back over all that had happened to her family during the past twelve months, wondering how on earth she could turn it all into one of her cheery Christmas letters. Joan’s voice suddenly came to her mind, as if she were standing there beside her.
Go for it, love! Let it rip! Tell the truth! It’s good for you.
She actually laughed out loud. Tell the truth? How could she?
Go for it, love! It’s good for you.
Angela stared at the screen for a long moment. Then she started a new letter, typing faster than she’d ever typed before.
What People are Saying About This
"Travel and family often provoke enough anxiety, each on their own; combined, they can drive you over the edge. Monica McInerney's laugh-inducing—and refreshingly honest—novel is the perfect antidote to both.”—Oprah.com
"In this perfect book-club read, a confessional letter (think: an affair exposed, kid problems) accidentally gets emailed to a woman’s entire contact list."—Redbook
“Witty novel…You’ll laugh, cringe and be so happy this wasn’t you.”—Self
“Readers who enjoy multicharacter, drama-laden family stories like those of Susan Wiggs or Maeve Binchy will find this episodic tale engaging.”—Library Journal
“With deeply developed characters who capture the heart, a plot that knows just when to twist and a cathartic marriage between the two protagonists, McInerney’s novel is worth every page.”—RT Book Reviews
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From an ARC kindly provided by TheReadingRoom and Penguin. Hello From The Gillespies is the 10th full-length novel by Australian author, Monica McInerney. The annual Christmas Letter: who hasn’t ever received one (or perhaps sent one themselves)? Angela Gillespie has been religiously sending one out every December 1st for 33 years. She regards her Christmas Letters as Historical Documents, a concept that is bears some merit. But for the Gillespies, this year has been (to borrow a famously royal term) an “annus horribilis”. A combination of factors (a five-month long headache, the impending return home of her twin daughters, the threatened stay of interfering Aunt Celia, the imminent hosting of two hundred neighbours for the district annual Woolshed party, the preamble to Christmas) coupled with an emergency trip to hospital to reunite her young son with his finger, mean that the version of Angela’s letter that is accidentally sent to one hundred email recipients is not her usual upbeat missive, but a searingly honest account of her family’s year. It is a letter that details the state of disarray of the lives of her four children, her worries about her husband and her doubts about her marriage, her opinion of her husband’s aunt, her frustrated pottery ambitions, her thoughts on the life she might have led. McInerney gives the reader an original plot with a few twists, some of which are predictable, but this does not detract from the reading pleasure. Her characters are familiar and easily recognisable. Even the nasty ones are people we have all run into: many of us have an Aunt Celia or a Horrible Jane somewhere in our lives. And don’t we all wish we had a good friend like Joan? The dialogue is completely natural and McInerney conjures the feel of the dusty outback in all its moods with consummate ease. The story manages to touch on a myriad of topics: mining leases in rural lands; celebrity gossip; succession plans for farming families; celebrity scandals; novelty websites; internet scams; depression in country males; diversification of activities for extra income; family reunions; genealogy; the bond between twins; imaginary friends and fantasy lives. The pieces on amnesia and confabulation are interesting and informative. Readers will find themselves constantly chuckling, often laughing out loud but occasionally also moved to tears or with a large lump in the throat. Reading this book in a public place may garner some funny looks. Fans of McInerney’s work know that stories about families are her strength; they will once again be delighted with this entertaining and heart-warming tale.
Ah, yes the annual Christmas letter that we have all sent and/or received. Filled with news of how lovely our year has been, focusing and, often, exaggerating on the positive bits. For the past thirty-three years, Angela Gillespie has done just that. Until this year, after a conversation with her best friend, Joan, Angela unloads her thoughts and feelings about her family, marriage, life, everything into this letter. The good, the bad, and the ugly all go in, like an episode of Jerry Springer. Angela has no intention of sending it, but it feels so good to get it off her chest. In a way, it’s therapeutic. Without judgment, Angela can vent her fears and frustrations. Angela doesn’t count on her son having an accident and rushing him to the hospital, where she forgets about the letter sitting on her computer. Her husband, trying to be helpful and thinking he is doing a good thing, clicks send for her and Angela’s moment of truth goes out to over 150 recipients. What ensues is a story of a family trying to come to terms with what has been revealed about them and the fallout they fear will happen as a result. It’s also a story about forgiveness and healing, making mistakes and being human and living life the best way we can with what we know and how we feel. I really enjoyed this story. Ms. McInerney writes a story that flows smoothly with characters that are vibrant in their different personalities and lives. I was very curious for what would happen next and hoping for a happily ever after for all of them. Every single member of this family experiences a loss and I enjoyed how they each overcome it and grow from it. My Final Verdict: I highly recommend this book to readers who like stories of imperfect people living their best lives, the best they can, holding on to love and hope.
I took my time reading this novel as it was a calm read. I liked that it was a book that I could read for a while and put it down and still remember the characters and the storyline later on. The story stayed with me, my mind was thinking about the characters and their daily lives but I wasn’t anxious and restless to finish the novel which was a great feeling. I don’t get this feeling very often when I am reading so I cherished it. I thought the middle of this novel dragged on a bit but otherwise, I thought there was a lot to celebrate inside this novel. I already talked about the way the story carried throughout the novel and I felt this was a big plus. The drama contained in the novel was a rollercoaster, having your highs and your lows and since this novel is centered on a family, it fit. I really enjoyed the ending and there was no way, I would have ever predicted that ending to occur. There was a lot going on in the novel but there were times when I felt time stood still. The grown children have all returned home as their lives have not panned out how they thought they would and now they have returned home to get themselves back on track. They noticed that their mother and father are not the affectionate people they used to be so they put a plan together to try to put the spark back into their parent’s marriage. Father is upset and frustrated. Alone, he feels that hope is obtainable in the future. Mother feels she is missing something in her life and wonders if this is the life that she was supposed to lead? Perhaps she missed something. A doubt grows in her mind and her mind wanders to what type of life she could have been leading all these years. It is time for mother’s yearly Christmas letter where she jots down her words, using happy, fictitious claims making the stories more glamorous than they really are, sending them off to all her family and friends. This year however she decides to type out the truth, the whole truth but before she can delete it she is called away and the words hang in there in cyberspace. Her husband sees her letter on the computer and he knows how important it is to her to send it off on a particular day, so he pushes the send button without reading one word of the letter. Yes, the truth is out there and it cannot be retrieved. This novel was entertaining, filled with family drama that makes you think about your own family. Each character adds their own flair to the mix and they all strive to be a part of something bigger. Yet they are all part of a family, a unit that works together and stays together.
Copy provided by Netgalley for an unbiased review. This was the first book I’ve read by Monica McInerney. I was drawn to it by both the settings (Australia, Ireland, and a bit of New York) and the premise. What I read was a lovely book about a dysfunctional family, but they aren’t dysfunctional in the “tragic” sense. By turns amusing, thoughtful, sad, and hopeful, the story begins with a brutally honest Christmas letter that’s sent by mistake. The consequences touch all the family members. There are lessons to be learned about the power of communication - and while I think that sometimes the importance of communication is overrated, this book had me mentally shaking a couple of the characters when their “failure to communicate” created so many issues for them. But I very much enjoyed taking this journey with this family, and McInerney’s descriptions of both Australia and Ireland left me ready to book a flight. I’ll definitely be reading more of her novels.
Angela Gillespies has the most perfect family, according to her annual Christmas newsletter. For the past 33 years, she has written this letter and sent out to who knows how many people at this point. But, this year's letter is a little different. Well, it the complete opposite of every other letter ever written; it's the complete and utter truth. Of course she didn't mean to send it & she thought it never was sent, but due to a series of bizarre events, out it goes. This is where the real story begins and travels - friends, family & fans all find out what is really going on in Angela's head, which in the end, brings her family closer to each other, through understanding and love. 'She knew the children found the whole idea mortifying - they, and Nick, had stopped reading the letters long ago - but perhaps in years to come they might like to see them. Angela hoped so. She secretly thought of them as historical documents. All the facts of their lives were there, after all, recorded in brief dispatches. She'd read back through them all only recently.' What a truly amazing & funny story! Love all of the characters and situations they find themselves in. Coming from a large family, this story tells it like it is, through humor and humiliation. This was one of the best books I've read this year!
This was my first book by Monica McInerney. The story was easy to follow and well written. The length is a bit daunting but the story flows well and keeps the reader interested. The characters are likable and easy to relate to.. This is not the type of book I would normally read. However, I am happy I gave it a chance. ARC provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
I don’t know if you have one of those families, but my mother’s side of the family was famous for their “annual Christmas letter”, containing several pages to catch everyone up on the highlights and minutiae of their own family year. Usually containing a family photo (taken in July) and rife with horrible Christmas sweaters, a pouting child or three, and several cheesey decorations. Monica McInerney brings us that same feel, with a twist. Angela Gillespie, living on a sheep station in the Australian outback is a sender of such letters. Usually full of lighthearted news, these letters have brought news of her family to near and far for years. This year, however, is different. Taking a few moments to let her real thoughts loose, Angela spills details and airs family laundry that never went further than their own home. Insecurities, doubts, worries about finances, frustrations with an interfering aunt, even her voicing wonder of what might have been. Angela was writing to air her frustrations, a quick draft never meant to be sent. But she was interrupted by her son’s accident, and her husband Nick, in a moment of helpful hit send. And the story begins! McInerney brings to light all the issues that are prevalent and common in a relationship and family: even if only momentary. Imagine if your every frustration was laid bare for all to see – most are easily solved, or set aside after resolution. But the sending of the mail to all and sundry, unleashes a series of events and forces everyone to look at their lives and behaviors. The characters are wonderfully flushed out, both from Angela’s initial frustrations and their appearance in the story. Her daughters Genevieve, Victoria and Lindy are complete people, prone to adolescent and immature behavior that contrasts with their thirty-something ages yet completely believable in those roles. Nick is perhaps too focused on ‘solutions’ and making a success of things than his own relationship, and their young son Ig, is rather a prototypical ten year old, aware of his parents but striking out after his own pleasures. Not surprisingly, the letter sends the family into a tailspin, but more is to come and their entire sense of what their family is and means is now in imminent danger. Not overly dramatic or over-written in any way, the story is gripping and engaging with plenty of fuel for imagination and thought as you will relate each person’s struggle and emotions to your own. Small glimpses of the countryside and other cities round out the imagery in the story, while the emotion is palpable and omnipresent. My only let-down was with the ending, which was predictable and felt rather anticlimactic after such a wonderful read, even as it fit perfectly into the story progression. A bit of a different and heartwarming holiday read, this isn’t rife with gingerbread and spruce, but brings us back to family and home: the true joy of the holidays. I received an eArc copy of the title from the publisher for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
Every year Angela Gillespie sends out a friendly, chatty Christmas letter for the holidays. She fills it with bits and pieces of her perfect life in the Australian outback, a life she never dreamed she would spend most of her life in when she was a young woman living in England. But here she is; only this year she gets more of her recent, severe headaches when thinking about what she should include as her year’s news. A good friend Joan tells her to write the way things really are, to “let it rip.” So all of a sudden, rather than bursting into tears, she takes her friend’s advice and really does write all about her dysfunctional family, from her neglectful, unromantic husband who barely talks to her, through her girls who have great dreams about careers but have really lousy relationships with boyfriends or are depressed, all the way to her youngest son Ig who spends his life chattering away, like he’s bonkers, to his imaginary friend. Happy Holidays! A terrible accident happens which is quickly resolved over several days; however, while she is dealing with that, her husband (without reading it) actually presses the send button for the Christmas letter to over a hundred family and friends. Oh, my God! Imagine Angela’s thoughts and feelings when she discovers what beloved hubby has done! And more how he feels when he realizes what was in the letter about himself and one of their nastier relatives! In plain and simple English, this is the straw that broke the camel’s back and the bubbling, boiling pot overflows with an amazingly large bevy of previously unshared feelings and words! Add to that the fact that the girls have lost their jobs and are returning home, expecting a monetary handout that might not be so forthcoming. This then is the story of a family that finally is compelled to begin listening to each other, becoming sensitive to each other’s thoughts and feelings as well as words, in all becoming a real, mature adult family. The process is riveting, totally engaging and absolutely delightful! Hello from the Gillespies… is a thrilling read about which readers can say, “Oh yeah, that’s how it is in my crazy family and world!” It’s a refreshing look at a normal Australian (is definitely universal) family that evolves through blood, sweat, tears and eventually hugs and kisses. Highly recommended!!!!!
Wow! This story should be a mandatory read. Monica is a don't pull your leg kind of writer. She goes right for your jugular. This is a not quite dysfunctional family but pretty close. What happens when a wool station closes? Read the book. Why do daughters with good jobs come home? Read the book. If you read this book be sure to stock up on snacks and tissues because when you start to read you won't be going anywhere. After all the small dramas how do you cope with an accident that changes their lives? Big Spoiler. You really must read this book. You are stuck in the middle with them and their friends. Enjoy! I have this book for an honest review for NetGalley.
I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Who hasn’t questioned the veracity of an annual xmas letter or wondered why their own family isn’t as unerringly perfect as that of the sender. After 33 years of sending out the annual, cheerful missive, Angela can’t seem to get started. To wipe out the cobwebs caused by a year filled with stress and disappointments, she pours it all out in a cathartic email which she never intends to send. Of course, by tragic circumstance, her wanting-to-be-helpful husband hits the send button, and one hundred of their closest friends, neighbors and family receive Angela’s very honest letter. Monica McInerney does a fabulous job portraying the hurt, anger and dark humor in the aftermath of the infamous Christmas letter. Thankfully, neighbor and family friend, Joan, helps most of the family to put on a united front and work toward forgiveness while acknowledging that their mother really hit the nail on the head with each of them. Yet another tragedy occurs, but this one becomes the catalyst for second chances and new beginnings. The best part is that the children really get to meet Angela as a person, not just the mother who takes care of all their needs. They also have to figure out how hard it is to take care of the ranch/station and care for each other. The dialogue is delightful and natural. The comedic one-liners are clever. Ms. McInerney beautifully paints a picture of the sheep station in the drought-ridden, dusty outback. All the characters are richly developed and each adds something important to the story. A number of issues have been successfully woven into the story: mining leases, celebrity gossip/scandal, internet scams, depression, fiscal responsibility/planning and disenfranchisement in relationships. This tale of a not-so-perfect family and their dynamics was filled with quirky comedy. It is both funny and homey at the same time. It would be ideal for a book club. This is my first time reading Monica Mcinnerney, but it won’t be the last. I highly recommend this book.