The novel opens in a small Australian country town with a young policeman informing Chris Rogers that her younger sister, Bella Michaels may have been found after having been reported missing. He asks Chris to identify the brutally slain body which turns out to be Bella.
Unlike so many crime novels, this is told mostly from the point of view of Chris and we feel every bit of her anguish. ‘The loss of her is already too much and then there’s the other thing – the end of being loved in the way only my sister could love me. What I feel for her survives and that hurts like battery acid every minute, but worse is that what she felt for me died with her. I will never be loved like that again. ‘
Twelve years older than Bella, our hearts break as the relationship and the intense love between Chris and her only sister is revealed. We’re introduced to Nate, Chris’s truckie ex-husband and their complicated relationship.
The crime and the police investigation is secondary to how the people who are left behind deal with the trauma of loss. The writing is superbly raw and honest and delves into themes of an ever-present feeling of violence, vulnerability and fear felt by many women particularly heightened in the aftermath of a vicious crime. About men’s violence on women, the following paragraph is the most poignant of all.
‘And there are men who don’t cause quite so much damage and so are all too happy to publicise the worst so they can look mild in comparison, and men who do no violence and so don’t see how it is their problem that others do, and here are men who want us to know about the bad and the worse and the negligent so that we go to them for protection and there are men … who are pure and good of heart and intent and who want only to be our friends and brothers and lovers but we have no way of telling those from the others until it’s too late and that, perhaps is the most unbearable thing of all.’
On the other side, is the media’s portrayal of a slain girl who is interesting only because she is young and pretty and the relentless pursuit for an angle at all costs. And this is where we’re put into journalist, May Norman’s point of view. We read her posts just as we would the newspaper. She too must deal with the aftermath of the murder and her job of reporting, while escaping from her own loss of love. If there is any weakness at all in this novel, it would be this character whom I found difficult to warm to.
Shortlisted for the Miles Franklin and Stella prize in 2017, this is an important novel to read, well executed and exquisitely written.