We lost all three girls that summer. Let them slip away like the words of some half-remembered song and when one came back, she wasn’t the one we were trying to recall to begin with.’
So begins Tikka Molloy’s recounting of the summer of 1992 – the summer the Van Apfel sisters, Hannah, the beautiful Cordelia and Ruth – disappear.
Eleven and one-sixth years old, Tikka is the precocious narrator of this fabulously endearing coming-of-age story, set in an eerie Australian river valley suburb with an unexplained stench. The Van Apfel girls vanish from the valley during the school’s ‘Showstopper’ concert, held at the outdoor amphitheatre by the river. While the search for the sisters unites the small community on Sydney’s urban fringe, the mystery of their disappearance remains unsolved forever.
I loved this.
Beautifully atmospheric, a snapshot in time that is utterly gripping, The Van Apfel Girls are Gone is a tense and character driven psychological thriller in the classic sense of the word.
Our narrator Tikka guides us, first through a child’s eyes then through the filter of adulthood, through the friendships and drama of her youth leading up to the disappearance of three sisters. A small community searches and mourns but not all questions can be answered.
This is a multi layered tale where understanding grows, emotional trauma lies just underneath and the beauty of the writing immerses you into Tikka’s world so you feel everything right along with her.
This is all about familial relationships and the things that hide beneath the surface. All the characters are stunningly vivid, Tikka, her sister, the three Van Apfel girls and the adults that define their choices, every one intriguingly authentic. A melancholy story yes but compelling for the entirety of its telling.
Australian fiction has it at the moment. I’m loving the novels coming from there and this one is another example of why.