31 December 2021

Review: THE CURLEW'S EYE, Karen Manton

Synopsis (publisher)

A richly atmospheric Gothic mystery set around a ruined homestead in the NT's Top End.

'It struck her that in all these years, every highway and meandering track they'd taken together had been heading towards this destination. A shack perched halfway up a hill in an other-world of bizarre shadow plants and dark sentinel trees . . . Every road had been leading here, to this place.'

Greta's partner Joel grew up with five brothers and a sister in a feisty household on an isolated NT property. But he doesn't talk about those days - not the deaths of his sister and mother, nor the origin of the scars that snake around his body.

Now, many years later, he returns with Greta and their three young boys to prepare the place for sale. The boys are quick to settle in, and Joel seems preoccupied with work, but Greta has a growing sense of unease, struggling in the build-up's oppressive heat and living in the shadow of the old, burned-out family home. She knows she's a stranger in this uncanny place, with its eerie and alluring landscape, hostile neighbour, and a toxic dam whose clear waters belie its poison. And then there's the mysterious girl living rough whom Greta tries to befriend.

Determined to make sense of it all, Greta is drawn into Joel's unspoken past and confronted by her own. Before long the curlew's haunting cry will call her to face the secrets she and Joel can no longer outrun.

My Take

The Northern Territory, the tough lifestyle, and the isolation are elements that Greta has never known. Like her husband Joel, Greta is an orphan, although she still has family down South. But there is so much about his past that Joel has never told her. She knows that Joel's parents came from Europe at the end of the Second World War, that they were determined to start a new life. She knows that he is from a large family of five sons and one daughter, and that they grew up on this homestead; that his sister died young in a car accident, but there is so much Joel will not talk about.

Setting up home for her 3 boys, herself and Joel at the ruined homestead is tough, as is the time when Joel goes away to work to bring in some extra money.

Greta is lucky that she makes friends with a couple of local women, mainly through her children, and they help her hold things together. She finds remnants of the past, photos and other things in the burnt out homestead which give her puzzles to solve, and gradually she is able to piece together what happened to Joel's parents and his sister.

Apart from the main narrative, the author has used to ploys to add to the story: the Gothic element of the past intruding into the present, and between chapters, small snippets of narrative in different voices which supply more clues for the reader.

An interesting read, and certainly an accomplishment for a debut novel 

My rating: 4.4

Author bio:

Karen Manton lives in Darwin and Batchelor in the Northern Territory. Her short stories have won five NT Literary Awards and are published in various anthologies, including Best Australian Stories, Award Winning Australian Writing, Review Australian Fiction and Landmarks. She has been awarded the Eleanor Dark Flagship Fellowship Varuna Writers' House, the NT Writers Centre Hachette Mentorship and the Arts NT Varuna Residential Fellowship. The Curlew's Eye is her first novel.

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