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21.04.2019 Europe

Wilderness and the human condition: Australian author enthralls France

Ollia Horton - RFI
World Editions Les Escales
APR 21, 2019 EUROPE

For her latest novel, international best-selling author Karen Viggers takes readers to Tasmania, to the old-growth eucalypt forests and vast rugged mountains of the little island off the south coast of mainland Australia. 'The Orchardist's Daughter' has been released in French by Editions Les Escales.

Viggers' fourth novel sees her characters evolve in a small timber town, where times are tough.

The lead character in 'The Orchardist's Daughter' is Mikalea, Miki, who lives her life as a virtual prisoner, working with her brother to run a takeaway food café, making ends meet after the tragic death of their parents.

She is desperate to make friends, but her brother won't allow her to have any contact with the outside world. One woman in the town manages to pass her some books. One of them is 'Le Petit Prince' ('The Little Prince') by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

“Miki loves books reads, connects with a lady who introduces her to books as a way of learning about the world and about life. In a nod to her love of literature and her French readers, Karen Viggers says she was “happy to include The Little Prince as one of the novels she (Miki) finds useful on her journey towards freedom and learning about herself.”

Conservation issues
Another character Miki crosses paths with is Leon, the lonely park ranger who is feeling a bit out of place in a logging town.

These characters bond over their connection to the forest and their desire to preserve the wildlife that inhabits it, such as the wedge-tailed eagle and the Tasmanian devil. This dog-like animal, which can only be found on the island of Tasmania has been on an endangered species list since 2008. The population is under threat partly due to a transmissible deadly facial tumor disease.

The theme of conservation runs strong in all four of Karen Vigger's works. She trained as a domestic and wildlife veterinarian and loves the great outdoors. This strong attachment to nature appeals to her readers across the world.

“Through my writing, I hope to reconnect people with wild places and to remind them how special those places are and the things that we can gain from spending time in nature, that feeling of peace and solitude, and even healing in that quiet space, and appreciation of the grandeur.”

Forests of 300-500 year-old trees
“There's a great humility that can be felt in the presence of nature. I often hope that if people go back out and enjoy those places in nature they may care about them enough to try and save them.”

Karen Vigger's third novel 'The Grass Castle' appealed so much to French bookseller Gerard Collard, that she appeared on French television last year and announced it would be 'the book of the summer'. When it came out in French, 'Le Murmure du Vent' as it was titled, sold 100,000 copies in six weeks.

Interviewed on The First Time podcast in Australia last October by Katherine Collette, Karen said she felt French readers like her work because they love nature and wild places, and they appreciate the environment. They are also more accepting of human nature and accepting of people's foibles.

Philosophical questions, ecological issues
“The French also don't need a happy, tied-up ending. They like to grapple with the human condition, and philosophical questions. They're great philosophers. In my work I try to tackle human issues and also environmental or ecological issues and hover above them and discuss them in the context of a human story and the French like that. So I don't need to write anything other than what comes best to me,” she said.

Karen Viggers is the author of three novels, the first of which, 'The Stranding', was published in 2009. Since then, her books have been translated into French, Italian, Norwegian, Slovenian and Spanish. Karen's work has enjoyed great success in France, where it has sold more than 800,000 copies to date.

Her third novel, 'The Lightkeeper's Wife' was on the French National Bestseller list for more than 42 weeks, going as high as No. 3.

'The Orchardist's Daughter' is published in Australia with Allen & Unwin and in France with Editions Les Escales.

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