‘They’re weird,’ Wally said.
‘They’re family,’ Mum said. ‘Your aunt and your cousin.’
‘If they’re family, then why’ve we never met them?’ Wally asked. ‘Why’ve we never even heard of them?’
Ten year old Cub is excited when her aunt and cousin move into the long empty house next door to theirs. Cub’s family – her parents, older brother Cassie, and twin brother Wally – are outcasts, ostracized by the town for the terrible crimes committed by her grandfather before Cub was born. Cub has limited understanding of why they are hated, but her only friend in the world is Wally, so she has high hopes that Tilly, her cousin, will be her new best friend.
But the presence of Tilly and her mother don’t create the kind of change Cub is hoping for. Rather, the tensions that have been bubbling beneath the surface seem to rise up, and when Cassie brings home a new friend, Ian, the tension rises.
The Yellow House, winner of this year’s Vogel Literary Award, is gut-wrenching story of family secrets, betrayal and inter-generational disadvantage. Seeing events through the eyes of Cub gives the story an intriguing perspective – Cub is naive and innocent, in many ways, and the readers must navigate and interpret events only through Cub’s understanding.
Unsettling to read, this is a well-woven haunting tale.
The Yellow House, by Emily O’Grady
Allen & Unwin, 2018
He didn’t compain about flies or blood and it showed in the way he looked. His small nose was flat and his ears caulifowered. He had thick grey hair and at times his eyes matched either his khaki shorts or blue workshorts. They were bright eyes but the sun had pushed them into permanent slits and when he looked out at the glare from the shed the rest of his face wrinkled in contortion.
After six years of drought, Millvan and his wife, Michelle, are celebrating a good harvest. Millvan has struggled for years to make a go of his rural property, to provide for his family and to, eventually, realise a dream of retiring to a house by the sea. His good harvest, however, does not mark the start of better times. His bank manager, who has extended his credit to get him through the drought, is now pushing for repayments greater than Millvan can manage. He may be about to lose eveything he has ever worked for – including that longed-for retirement.
Drown Them in the Sea is a very Australian story about life on the land and the ever-present struggle against adversary. It is about a man’s love of his land and his family and also, very strongly, about mateship. Millvan’s friends are fellow farmers who rally to help him, both physically and with moral support. They are strong, unemotional men, like Millvan, but show their empathy with their presence.
This is a moving, authentic tale, which is perhaps why it was awarded the coveted Vogel Award this year. Although it would be nice to perhaps get to know Millvan’s son, Murray, and his wife, Michelle, a little better, it is not really their story. This is Millvan’s tale and the reader comes to know him well.
A memorable read.
Drown Them in the Sea, by Nicholas Angel
Allen & Unwin, 2004