Palace of Tears

Written by Julian Leatherdale
Review by Marina Maxwell

Adam Fox is owner of the Palace, an exclusive resort hotel in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. In 1914, his only son Robin tumbles to his death over a cliff. Suspicion falls on Robin’s childhood friend, Angie Wood.

In 2013, Adam’s grand-daughter Lisa begins exploring her family history and comes across cryptic references to Angie and wonders what happened to her. In the process we learn about Lisa’s mother Monika, Adam’s two wives, Adelina and Laura, and his lover Freya, all of whom were to suffer from “… so many lies … elaborate acts of deception … secret agreements, hidden cruelty, forbidden love.”

This epic novel has some keen observations of 20th-century Australian society and is at its best when it delves into little-known aspects such as the appalling treatment during World War I of people who had either German ancestry or family connections and were sent to concentration camps and then deported.

There are lavish descriptions of art and design, food, fashion, theatre, and early Australian movie-making; plus several fires, dream sequences and even a fairy story. There are cameos from real historical individuals, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in a séance, and Dame Nellie Melba gives one of her last recitals. Interesting as some of these digressions might be, with so much going on and too many points of view, ultimately there is no real emotional connection to the women, whose destinies are controlled by the ruthless Adam. All this excess as well as plot twists within twists might even be seen as a metaphor for the ridiculous sprawling luxury hotel itself that is nicknamed “Fox’s Folly”.

It’s a novel that is in turns exhilarating, exasperating and exhausting. In spite of this chaos, a lot of readers are going to simply adore it!