It is 1997, and in a basement flat in Hackney Isla Green is awakened by a call in the middle of the night: her father, phoning from Sydney.
30 years ago, in the suffocating heat of summer 1967, the Greens’ next-door neighbour Mandy disappeared. At the time, it was thought she had gone to start a new life; but now Mandy’s family is trying to reconnect, and there is no trace of her. Isla’s father Joe was allegedly the last person to see her alive, and now he’s under suspicion of murder.
Reluctantly, Isla goes back to Australia for the first time in a decade. The return to Sydney will plunge her deep into the past, to a quiet street by the sea where two couples live side by side. Isla’s parents, Louisa and Joe, have recently emigrated from England — a move that has left Louisa miserably homesick while Joe embraces this new life. Next door, Steve and Mandy are equally troubled. Mandy doesn’t want a baby, even though Steve — a cop trying to hold it together under the pressures of the job — is desperate to become a father.
The more Isla asks about the past, the more she learns: about both young couples and the secrets each marriage bore. Could her father be capable of doing something terrible? How much does her mother know? And is there another secret in this community, one which goes deeper into Australia’s colonial past, which has held them in a conspiracy of silence?
I’m being spoilt with great reads lately and here is another one to watch in 2020, Susan Allott’s “The Silence” a quietly emotional and beautifully written novel which has a dark sense of nostalgia to it even as it touches on deeply emotive issues.
Two families live side by side, one of their number disappears, a disappearance not noted until over 30 years later. Enter Isla, drawn back to the childhood home she has avoided, thrown by emerging secrets and her own jagged memories..
The Silence revisits a time in Australian history that I knew nothing about, the author captures the sense of time and place pitch perfectly, moving seamlessly between past and present until the truth comes out into the light. The characters are drawn with an intriguing, authentic set of layers, there is a sense throughout that something bad is coming and in the end this is a classic character drama playing out on a wide canvas, holding the reader in it’s grip from first page to last.
I thought it was excellent, disturbing yet emotionally resonant, descriptively immersive and with an unforgettable finale.