The Country Wedding

Written by Barbara Hannay
Review by Waheed Rabbani

In 1958, in a quaint church in Burralea, a picturesque Tablelands township in north Queensland, Australia, Joe, a local cattle rancher, is getting married. His former sweetheart, Hattie, watches the ceremony from a distance. Hattie, who was brought up in Shanghai by her English parents, had come to Australia with her mother just prior to WWII. Upon her mother’s death, Hattie, nearly twenty, moves to England.

In 2015, following two marriages and now retired, Hattie returns to Burralea. Flora, a young Melbourne concert violinist fleeing from a rancorous relationship with a tenor, also arrives back home in Burralea. She agrees to play at the wedding of her old flame, Mitch, who is now the local policeman. The ceremony is at the same quaint church, but the bride doesn’t show. Dejected, Mitch plans to leave town. However, the unearthing of human bones at Flora’s brother Seth’s farm engrosses Mitch in the investigation and envelops the former lovers in the mystery.

This multigenerational saga of reunited lovers is narrated well, and the introduction of a mysterious death adds intrigue and increases the novel’s appeal. The frequent alternation between the storyline’s dual time frames, set in present-day Australia and pre-WWII Shanghai, requires careful reading to keep track of the plot. Hannay is Australian, and her descriptions of the locales and the flora and fauna, particularly those of northern Queensland, are evocatively presented. Similarly, the dialogue between the characters, especially the Australians’, sounds authentic. While the characters’ use of commonly spoken expletives feels normal, their presence in some of the descriptions looks a bit odd in literary writing (“He’d been fucking jilted”). The theme of first loves separating and reuniting years later seems overly complicated, likely due to the large cast of characters, but is otherwise handled deftly.