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A wild heart beneath

A wild heart beneath
Rhonda Dredge

Hydra is a new novel by local author Adriane Howell that should appeal to apartment dwellers with a country property down the coast.

This is a satisfying tale about a city dweller who sheds a few layers to live a more authentic life close to nature.

Unfortunately for Anya, the main character of the story, the transition is not that smooth.

The shack she randomly chooses for her escape is wilder than expected and there are more demons in her bit of coastal reserve than in any post-it note squabbles at work.

The novel, with its setting next to a naval base on the peninsula, buys into the post-lockdown exodus of workers out of town to less commercial places.

But where Anya has been seeking solace after a draining marriage break-up, she discovers how susceptible she is to strange occurrences at night and howling gales.

Her struggles, rather than giving her a new sense of proportion, force her to face up to the “beast” within.

Hydra is a Gothic tale that should appeal to those seeking more from life than being a loyal employee and wife. 

A bandaged hand and broken tooth are the physical signs of Anya’s unleashed spirit as she deals with her humiliations. 

Geoffrey Browne Auction House is the setting for her dramatic return to Melbourne where she steals a 1949 prototype chair under the nose of her rival.

The novel raises questions about the frailty of 21st century urban culture and the summary treatment of employees prior to the lockdown.

Ambition is a poor substitute for love but the only thing on offer for Anya and her rival, “a fraudulent aesthete”, who compete to avoid “collectibles” in favour of “mid-century”. 

The early scenes at Geoffrey Browne are brilliantly described, down to the fibre of Anya’s blouse and her first-person patter is dark and amusing, the familiar voice of the chick lit protagonist as she breezes through life’s vicissitudes.

Her portraits of co-workers are wicked and her zeal to procure signature pieces, known in the trade as Prima, is without bound. 

The reader is rapidly drawn into the amusing cynicism and petty battles of the antiquarian world, and the lengths the industry goes to procure important deceased estates. 

But when Anya is dismissed, the coin flips, panic sets in, her voice loses its certainty, desperate measures are adopted and the storyline is not as cohesive, with a one-night stand and a car accident glossed over.

This is a content-driven novel with a sophisticated overlay of antiquarian jargon that hides a wild heart beneath.

Hydra, Adriane Howell, Transit Lounge, 2022. •

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