I turned the last page a few days ago and this book hasn’t left me alone to think about anything else other than the characters and the page turning story.
The first line “the moment he dies, the room explodes with life”, pulls you in and propels you through three time zones, 1940’s, 1960’s and 1983. Each chapter highlights which character it’s about and when, so it’s not difficult to follow.
The main character Joy returns after a long absence in 1983 to nurse her dying father, George, a highly respected and upstanding citizen of the rural community of Blackhunt. Alex Shepard, the local policeman, suspects foul play when George is found with a belt pulled tight around his neck and we’re left wondering if Joy has done it.
We’re then propelled back in time to George’s marriage to Joy’s mother Gwen, their whirlwind courtship, the run-down dairy farm she lives in and how she survives her new life. It’s through eleven-year-old Joy’s eyes in December 1960 that we learn about her fixation with words, about her religious father and his abusive consequences on Joy and her siblings. In particular, Joy’s special relationship with her older sister Ruth is fascinating as it is revealing.
“Joy knew she should feel sorry for Ruth, but the truth was she felt a familiar white tremor of jealousy.”
Beyond that we get a strong sense of the community and the era particularly when nine-year-old friend, Wendy who lives on a neighbouring farm disappears and is never found which haunts the same investigating policeman, Alex Shepard twenty years later.
The novel is divided into four parts and the first half slowly but intricately unveils the many secrets of Joy’s family sucking the reader into a web of intrigue. A few twists and turns threw me into an unexpected direction culminating in an ending I had no idea was coming.
“His room smells like the orange blankets have licked up the dying odours from his body and are slowly releasing them into the air, and the semi-darkness reminds me of the day I hid in here and saw a snake on the bed, about to attack me.”
There are so many elements to this story and to say too much would be to give away spoilers however, it should be noted that there is a strong theme of domestic violence and child abuse. And although not explicit, it is nerve-wracking and somewhat harrowing. Nevertheless, Ms. Yeowart holds nothing back, taking us on a journey where nothing is as it might seem, where neighbours turn a blind eye and where families hide what really goes on behind closed doors.
It’s disturbing and tense, gripping and complex yet beautifully crafted by debut novelist, Lyn Yeowart. Definitely worth checking out.