Jean Harley Was Here

Heather Taylor Johnson

Jean Harley Was Here
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Jean Harley Was Here

Heather Taylor Johnson

A woman opens her car door, knocking a passing cyclist into the path of an oncoming van. The cyclist is Jean Harley. But this is not Jean’s story, nor is it the story of her death. It is the stories of the people she leaves behind. It is the story of her husband, her mother, her friends, her son, her former lover. And of the man who caused it all. Jean Harley is the glue that binds these and other voices in Heather Taylor Johnson’s heartbreakingly honest and original novel.

Jean Harley Was Here
is a vivid exploration of grief, loss and what comes after.


Devoted wife, loving mother, and consummate best friend Jean Harley has just been struck down by a tragic bicycle accident. Jean Harley Was Here is a record of the lives that she leaves behind.

Heather Taylor Johnson’s latest novel explores the lasting effects of grief through a showcase of how much one life (and one death) can influence the lives surrounding it. The novel is told by a series of narrators as each chapter changes perspective to show the role Jean’s life and death had on the people around her: her husband, her best friends, the man at fault for her death and even her dog.

The novel’s strongest point is its ability to fully flesh out each character. In some ways, the series of intertwining and intersecting chapters read like short stories, detailing the lives of each character beyond the scope of their relationship with Jean.

With rave reviews from Australian wunderkind Hannah Kent dotting the book jacket, it was hard not to get excited about this novel. On a personal note, Jean’s (and Johnson’s) perspective as a North American immigrant to Australia was especially affecting for me as a Canadian living in Australia. I found myself easily relating to the experience of having multiple homes and loved ones that span the globe. But even if you’re not an American expat you’ll find something (or someone) to relate to in this story with its wide range of characters.

By turns tragic and romantic, this novel is a careful and honest depiction of grief and love.

Tristen Kiri Brudy works as a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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