Kate Kruimink

Pan Macmillan Australia
28 May 2024


Kate Kruimink

I saw my mother for a long time after she died. I would see her out windows, or in the corner of my eye. Always in the periphery, always a dim blur, but unmistakably my mother, the herness skating through every line and flicker.

Charlotte ('Lot') and Ellen ('Nelly') are sisters who were once so close a Venn diagram of the two would have formed a circle. But a great deal has changed since their mother's death, years before. Clever, beautiful, gentle Lot has been unfailingly dutiful - basically a disaster of an older sister for much younger Nelly, still haunted by their mother in her early thirties.

When the pair meet at a silent retreat in a strange old house in the Tasmanian countryside, the spectres of memory are unleashed.

Heartsease is a sad, sly and darkly comic story about the weight of grief and the ways in which family cleave to us, for better and for worse. It's an account of love and ghosts so sharp it will leave you with paper cuts.


Once upon a time, there were no two sisters whose lives were more closely entwined than Charlotte and Ellen. But everything changed when their mother died when they were teenagers. Years later, the sisters would hardly recognise each other. Charlotte married and had children, hoping that a life of normalcy would help cure the pain of the past. Ellen, unfortunately, had been left haunted and descending into a pit of despair and anxiety over her own physical ailments. When the two sisters meet again at a retreat in the Tasmanian countryside, the ghosts of their pasts are unleashed, memories rekindled, and a bond either made stronger than before or irreversibly ruined.

It was about halfway through reading this novel that I realised the double meaning of the title. There is the more obvious blending of words ‘heart’ and ‘disease’, reflecting the pervasive internal conflicts and foreboding news that looms over the story like an impending storm. However, it can also be read as ‘heart’s ease’, a correlation to the wild pansy flower, also nicknamed heartsease for its remedies in lovesickness and cardiac ailments in herbal tradition. The death of their mother has left both Charlotte and Ellen with a feeling of decay and loss, yet also a pathway towards healing and self-discovery. Their individual stories are a tender, raw, and an earnest glimpse into the complexities of grief, and the chaotic nature it has in the indefinite lengths of time or depths of pain that affect each person. Alternating between their childhood after their mother passes and the present day, Heartsease is a beautiful eulogy to the weight of loss and grief, how it shapes us, and how the memory of love clings to us in the strongest and most unexpected of way

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