Posted by: Lisa Hill | March 5, 2019

Into the Fire, by Sonia Orchard

Almost a decade ago, I read Sonia Orchard’s debut novel The Virtuoso (2008) which won the Indie Award for Best Debut Fiction.  I was impressed, but it’s been a long time between novels, so I refreshed my memory of the theme from my review, to find that in this new novel — though the plot is entirely different — once again it’s a case of a friendship that sours…

Lara is a thirty-something high-achiever about to become a mother for the first time when she visits the surviving family of her best friend Alice, a year after Alice died in a house fire. Lara is devastated by this loss, even though their long-term friendship was as good as over.

That friendship originated in a shared view of the world, nourished by the feminist ideals they aspired to after completing Women’s Studies at the University of Melbourne in the 1990s.  But plans to travel the world together and ‘have it all’ fell apart when Alice opted to keep an unplanned baby and in her early twenties took up an ‘earth mother’ lifestyle in the bush.  With the charismatic musician Crow she has two more children, and the gulf between her life and Lara’s widens as Lara takes off around the world and builds her career.

It was nostalgia for the shared good times that sustained continued contact — and Orchard writes brilliantly about the hectic lifestyle they had, following Crow’s band and partying hard.  Reflecting on this friendship, however, Lara displays her inner nerd with her own psychoanalysis of her feelings — using every theory I’ve heard of and more.  While this is necessary for the reader to understand the dynamics of the friendship and its betrayals — and it reinforces the idea that Lara is so busy obsessing over it that she neglects the messages she is hearing from her friend — the explanations of Maslow et all and how it applies to the characters does get a bit wearying.  Other readers may enjoy this endless intellectual narcissism but it just made me grateful that none of my friends are like this!

One of the blurbers alerts the reader to the gaslighting that’s going on, so it’s not really a spoiler to mention it.  The depiction of its impact on Alice is vivid:

… I was saddened by what I saw.  Alice’s vitality had faded, or been transformed into a jitteriness.  She tapped continually on the table with her fingers or with a teaspoon, her leg jiggled up and down, she chewed her fingernails like a child.  Earlier, she’d even ducked out the kitchen door, asking me to stay and watch over the stove, then returned, smelling of cigarette smoke.  She’d only ever been an occasional smoker but had made a big deal about giving up altogether when she had kids. (p.147)

But Lara has her own toxic relationship to deal with and so she fails her friend just when she is needed the most.  The novel explores this gulf between the ideals of feminism and its reality in relationships, and how when tragedy strikes, blaming and self-blaming intersect when it’s all too late.

The Saturday Paper reviewed it too.  It’s paywalled but you can have a limited number of views before the paywall kicks in.


Author: Sonia Orchard
Title: Into the Fire
Publisher: Affirm Press, 2019, 272 pages
ISBN: 9781925712827
Source: Bayside Library Service

Available direct from all good bookshops and Affirm Press where it is also available as an eBook.


  1. I went to Sonia’s launch recently Lisa, and a few days ago I finished her book. For me its greatest strengths are (as you point out) the effects of gaslighting, but also Lara’s constant missed opportunities to rise above her own pettiness and spot the domestic abuse her best friend is enduring. It’s a great page turner!


    • True. But did you think it was a somewhat claustrophobic relationship too? If they’d had other friends, both of them might have had a better grasp of what normal relationships should be like?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It was a brutal portrayal from the narrator’s point of view re her behaviour as she ponders a friendship gone very wrong. Her envy of Alice, and her infatuation with Crow render her incapable of sympathy, so in that way yes, the friendship is stretched to its limits.


    • And if we were psychologists, we’d trawl around in childhood for how that happened!


  3. Sounds interesting. I hadn’t heard the term “gaslighting” but the behaviour seems like the behaviour of a narcissist? Do narcissists gaslight?


    • If you click the link on the word (in the review) there is a description of it. I don’t know what type of personality disorder it’s most commonly associated with, but I’ve only ever heard it used to describe how men do it to women. Kate from Books Are My Favourite and Best will know, I expect.


      • Yes, I did Lisa, which is why I asked the question. It sounds very narcissistic though I’m not an expert on narcissism either – and maybe it’s the sort of things narcissists might do but is not necessarily a direct link.


        • I really don’t know. Just a wild guess, but wouldn’t narcissists be so preoccupied with themselves that they wouldn’t have the energy for it?


          • Oh yes, maybe you’re right.

            Liked by 1 person

            • The way I understand gaslighting is that yeah, it is narcissistic, but it so much more. It is sociopathic. A sociopath is driven by constant scheming, and narcissism is one of their branches; a necessary tool.


              • Thanks Julie — that makes sense. It felt related but not the same as.


                • Sue, it seems to fit the character of Crow. I felt quite chilled by him. That ability to switch from charm to manipulation and denigration, with the extra special talent of making the ones who love them feel at fault and crazy. They bedazzle. Scary stuff.


                • And Lara was oblivious to it all! Maybe that’s the way it is, I don’t know,,,


                • It’s complex, isn’t it. Thinking of Crow as a sociopath makes it possible to understand why Lara was so blinkered in relation to her friend’s situation. Like everyone in his orbit, she was bedazzled by Crow.


                • Well, celebrities can have that effect, blinding people to behaviour that they wouldn’t countenance otherwise. Think of Michael Jackson…


                • It sure is … I’ve certainly known charmers who manipulate but no-one who goes to that next level of denigration.


                • I don’t think it’s been a recognised phenomenon (at least by members of the public) until quite recently…


  4. […] Into the Fire by Sonia Orchard,  see my review. […]


  5. […] Into the Fire, by Sonia Orchard […]


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