‘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
She came so close I could see a mole above her lip. She spat/ A glob landed on the window in front of my face.
‘Bloody Japs!’ she said, shaking her fist.
The train groaned as it moved away. The woman became smaller till she was no more than a pale slip, but I could still see her face. Eyes narrowed, mouth tight – her features twisted with hate.
It is 1942 and Japan has entered the second war against the allies. Tomokazu Ibaraki, who has been working as a doctor in Broome, finds himself a prisoner of war, interned with other Japanese men in remote South Australia. Here he works in the infirmary and lives in close quarters with men of Japanese heritage with a range of backgrounds\, including a group of men who were born in Australia and see themselves as Australian. He finds friends but he is also confronted with the difficulties of a life in confinement, and with the dilemma of which men are actually his friends, and which have darker sides to their natures.
While he deals with his present, Dr Inaraki must also confront his past, a past peppered with personal tragedy and dilemmas created by promises he made. Coming to Australia was supposed to offer a chance for redemption – to leave that life behind and build something new, but events in the internment camp force him to revisit things he would rather forget.
After Darkness, the winner of this year’s Vogel Award, is a haunting debit novel about friendship, loyalty, and the promises. Ibaraki is a man of honour who is believably flawed in his inability to find a way through difficult situations he finds himself in, yet is ultimately a likeable character with whom it is easy to sympathise.
Set amidst the backdrop of World War II, and the years prior, the story offers an insight into historical events with which many readers would be unfamiliar. A haunting read.
After Darkness, by Christine Piper
Allen & Unwin, 2014
Available from good bookstores and online.
Jean-Loup’s task seems simple. A Melbourne-based financial advisor, he has been sent by ATSIC to Mission Hole Community to conduct an audit of its art centre. But Jean-Loup soon realises that nothing in this community is as simple as it appears.
The community’s most noted artist is Margaret Thatcher Gandarrway, whose works have achieved international recognition and attracted high prices. But something disturbing has happened. At the unveiling of her latest painting, the picture was found slashed and with the words “the artist is a thief” scrawled across it. The shock of this act and the implications of the message has sent shock waves around the art community. Is Margaret Thatcher Gandarrway a thief? And what exactly is it she has stolen?
When Jean-Loup Wild arrives at the community to investigate the running of the arts centre and to try to reinstate its credibility following these events, he meets with unexpected obstacles and opposition. On his first night in the community he comes across the murdered corpse of the person most likely to help in his investigation. No one else in the community even wants to talk to him, let alone help him.
Not only is the investigation proving difficult, but Jean-Loup has to face personal conflicts as well. he has a personal link to the community – his mysterious older sister Duchess whose history he would like to trace and who is partially the reason for his accepting this job. He also finds himself increasingly attracted to Petra, the beautiful Aboriginal woman who helps him in his investigations.
As he confronts his past, Jean-Loup must also confront the present. He must try to unravel the mystery of the murder, the elusive Margaret Thatcher Gandarrway, and the message on the painting, whilst working on a playing field where everyone but him seems to know the rules. Whilst piecing together the puzzle he gets to know himself and the society in which he live son a more intimate level than ever before.
The Artist is a Thief, winner of the The Australian/Vogel Literary Award, is a philosophical detective novel with a difference, sure to provoke thought as it entertains.
The Artist is a Thief, by Stephen Gray
Allen & Unwin, 2001.