|Oct/Nov 2016 Reviews & Interviews|
Allen & Unwin. 2016. 378 pp.
ISBN 978 1 76029 373 4.
Goodwood is a fairly typical Australian country town. Its main street boasts Bart's Meats, the Goodwood Grocer, the village bakery, a real estate agent, Woody's service station, Mac's police station, the Bookworm second-hand book shop, Vinnie's (the St Vincent de Paul charity shop), and The Wicko (the Wickham Pub). There is also a school, a small dairy farm and the Bowlo (the Lawn Bowls Club, which the locals frequent for meals and family celebrations).
Goodwood, as teenage Jean Brown tells us, is "a glass half-full kind of town" where everybody knows everybody and the most dramatic events are "minor traffic-accidents or a lack of rain." That was before August, 1992, when young Rosie White, the coolest girl in town, "dropped off the face of the earth," and then a week later popular old Bart, of Bart's Meats, went fishing on the lake and never returned.
Everyone is affected, and a pall of gloom hangs over the town. The lake is searched, but no body is found. Missing Persons bulletins are circulated and distant family and friends contacted, but Rosie remains unseen. And Jean, out walking her dog, Backflip, finds a plastic bag containing $500 hidden in a willow tree she climbed in order to watch the lake. Jean dreams of all the things she could buy with that money but worries about how she could explain these purchases to her mother, so she puts the bag back and tells no-one. A few days later she finds the bag still there, but it contains only a small plastic horse. This is her secret. But other people in the town have secrets, too.
Gradually, we hear from Jean what happens over the next week or so, and we get to learn some of these secrets, some of which are very dark. Jean's view of the town and its people is that of a typical, intelligent, questioning teenager. She is blunt, mostly honest, and often very funny, and she is also dealing with her own sexual awakening. Life for most of the people she knows goes on almost as usual, but there is an underlying sense of danger, unhappiness, and unease. Jean's relationships with her mother, with George her female best-friend, with local boys, with the new girl in town, and with the adults around her are as much part of this story as the mystery of the two missing people.
Since this is an Australian story told by an Australian teenager, there is a strong flavor of life in a small Australian country town. And there are words and references peculiar to Australia. Place names are abbreviated, nicknames and the use of first names is common, ratbag kids are "bogans" (or they were in 1992). The notorious Lindy Chamberlain trial featuring a baby-stealing dingo and an unusual religious sect is mentioned; so, too, are the "back-packer murders" that dominated Australian media reports in 1992.
Having been told early on that the mystery of the disappearances would eventually be solved, I was very tempted at times to skip to the end for the revelation, especially when Jean's account of daily happenings seemed a little over-long and irrelevant. But I didn't, and on the whole the book held my interest and was a pleasant and amusing read.