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Posted on 27 Jun 2023 in Fiction |

MEGAN ROGERS The Heart is a Star. Reviewed by Emma Foster

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Debut novelist Megan Rogers has chosen the moody west coast of Tasmania as the backdrop for this dark family drama.

Just as the atmosphere on the Apple Isle can often be bleak and unpredictable (characteristics that have lent themselves so well to the rise of the so-called ‘Tassie Noir’ genre), so too is the plot of Rogers’ novel, as narrator Layla Byrnes picks at the scabs of her family’s secrets.  

Within the first few pages, it’s apparent Layla is experiencing a particularly turbulent time in her life and is feeling pressure from all directions. At work, she’s been put on enforced leave from her job as an anaesthetist (we find out why later in the novel). At home, she feels she’s failing her young kids due to her long work hours, and her marriage is heading into ever-rockier territory.

To top it off, Layla takes a phone call from her mother, Nora, and it’s plain the relationship between the two is strained. She describes the effect of Nora’s voice as:

… turning over a heavy stone in my stomach, the weight that only children who’ve grown up with a bottomless-pit parent can understand.

Nora still lives in the family home near the remote fictional town of Port Jericho in Tasmania, far from Layla’s new base in Queensland; her adored father is no longer there, having disappeared when Layla was in her teens. Layla’s concern at her mother’s behaviour escalates during the phone call when Nora implies she plans to kill herself and beseeches Layla to look in her wardrobe drawer when she’s gone:

‘I need you to know the truth about your father. I just can’t be around when you do.’

So, hit by a mix of worry (and, it must be said, annoyance), along with a burning need to unravel the mystery of what really happened to her father, Layla drops everything and makes a mercy dash to Tasmania.

The course of her journey home frames the rest of the novel as Layla dips back and forth from the present to memories of the past, non-sequentially peeling back layer upon layer of her history – the disappearance of her father, the mental instability of her mother, the absence of her sister Willow, the involvement of her aunt, neighbours and childhood friends, and the disintegration of her own marriage. 

As the novel pushes towards the answers Layla has long sought, Rogers plays with the notion of how memories can often distort truths, especially memories of events viewed through the lens of childhood.

Along the way, she also explores topical gendered challenges faced by women: the unfair weight often placed on women of balancing care and career, the continuing discrimination women face in many workplaces, the effects of intergenerational abuse and violence, to name a few.

Yet, underpinning these stormy themes is a strand of hope – that when women band together, there is much strength in their solidarity.

The Heart is a Star is impressive in its structure, tension and sensitivity. But it does take a little time for Rogers to get into a comfortable stride with the cadences of her lyrical style, some early descriptions coming across as a bit jarring. When Layla, for instance, shares an intimate scene with her lover, who is gently tracing the line of a vein up her arm, she says:   

With the caution of a parent moving a sleeping child’s body so as not to wake them, he settled my hand back on my thigh.

As the novel progresses, however, the prose becomes more fluid and less forced, making it easier to savour the emotional landscapes, the symbolism, the mid-life messiness and Australian small-town vibe that Rogers has so lovingly poured into her pages. 

Megan Rogers The Heart is a Star Fourth Estate 2023 HB 284pp $32.99

Emma Foster is a freelance writer and reviewer. Her musingcan be found at

You can buy The Heart is a Star from Abbey’s at a 10% discount by quoting the promotion code NEWTOWNREVIEW.

You can also check if it is available from Newtown Library.

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