Michelle Upton’s debut novel Terms of Inheritance (Harper Collins 2022) begins with a fascinating premise that diverges into the dynamics of a family struggling with secrets. The story is witty, warm-hearted and satisfying, the writing is well-crafted and the dialogue is spot-on. Upton has created characters that will be immediately familiar to readers; your will see your family members, your friends (or perhaps even yourself!) in at least one.
The supposition of this story is a challenge. Multi-millionaire and jet-setting tycoon Jackie Turner realises her life of privilege and power is coming to an end and decides to set her four adult daughters individual challenges they must complete in order to inherit their mother’s vast fortune. Each must succeed; if one fails, they all fail, and the money is donated to a charitable cause.
The youngest, Jess, must commit to a relationship for longer than three months, which seems an impossible task. Mel must complete the Gold Coast marathon – an even more impossible activity. Rose, an exhausted mother of three, must somehow find the time and energy to publish a children’s picture book. And the eldest, Isla, must figure out who she really is, beyond her material success, a task that doesn’t even seem to have a quantifiable outcome.
At first, the women see their mother as she has always seemed: controlling, distant, cold and manipulative. But as each thinks hard about the challenge she has been set, the relationship dynamics within the family begin to shift.
In the months that follow, relationships are strained, truths are revealed, and everyone is forced to take a closer look at their ambitions and motivations.
This novel is set in quintessential Queensland and Upton has captured the showy glamour and tacky taste of particular locations, especially the Gold Coast, with unbridled tongue-in-cheek accuracy. Her characters are complex and relatable, and each shows growth and change as the novel develops. There are some very familiar eccentricities, along with a few surprises. It is a preposterous plot and Upton delivers it with hilarity and moments of thought-provoking tenderness.
Terms of Inheritance is for readers who love Toni Jordan, Cassie Hamer, Graeme Simpsion, Katherine Collette and Joanna Nell. It is light-hearted, uplifting and great fun.