Title: The Silence by Susan Allott
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre: Historical (60s & 90s), Mystery
Length: 300 pages
Book Rating: B+
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss
Combining the emotional power and dual narrative style of Before We Were Yours with the nuanced, layered, and atmospheric mystery of The Dry, a powerful debut novel revolving around a shocking disappearance, two neighbor families, and shameful secrets from the past that refuse to stay buried.
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 fled a broken marriage and 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.
Isla unwillingly plans to go back to Australia for the first time in a decade to support her father. The return to Sydney will plunge Isla 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? What will happen to their family if Isla’s worst fears are realized? 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?
Deftly exploring the deterioration of relationships and the devastating truths we keep from those we love, The Silence is a stunning debut from a promising literary star.
The Silence by Susan Allott is an engrossing mystery that touches on Australia’s Stolen Generation, alcoholism and domestic abuse.
In 1997, thirty-five year old Isla Green is newly sober and living in London when her father unexpectedly phones her. She is shocked to learn he is a suspect in the thirty year disappearance of their former neighbor Mandy Mallory. Although not exactly thrilled with returning to Australia, Isla knows she needs to return to Sydney to support her family and hopefully learn what happened to Mandy. Unfortunately, she is thrust back into the family dysfunction made her and her brother Scott’s childhood incredibly volatile. Will the police uncover the truth about what happened to Mandy? And is Isla prepared for possibility her father is somehow involved?
Isla has a successful career she enjoys but her personal life is in shambles. Following a painful break-up, Isla is trying to get sober for the first time in her life. Despite her chaotic childhood, Isla is close to her father and she completely believes he had nothing to do with Mandy’s disappearance. She is assailed by long forgotten memories but do these troubling recollections have anything to do with Mandy? With her sobriety in jeopardy, will Isla continue to pursue her quest for the truth?
In 1967, Joe’s marriage to Louisa is on shaky ground due to his drinking and an unexpected pregnancy. Louisa and Mandy are close friends and Isla stays with her neighbor while her mother works. Following a promotion at work, Joe begins drinking more as he attempts to cope with the added responsibility. Following a terrible fight while Joe is black out drunk, Louisa makes a decision that results with unanticipated consequences.
Mandy and her police husband Steve’s marriage is strained as he pressures her to start a family. They are also facing added pressure due to Steve’s increasing stress about being forced to remove Aboriginal children from their families. With trouble swirling around them, Mandy makes an impulsive choice that alters the course of her and Steve’s life.
The Silence is an absolutely riveting novel with a multi-layered storyline and deeply flawed characters. The mystery of what happened to Mandy is intriguing and the events leading up to her disappearance are told through a series of flashbacks. The present day story arc is poignant as Isla struggles to maintain her sobriety and cope with the information she learns about Mandy and her disappearance. Handling delicate subject matter with sensitivity, Susan Allott shines a much needed light on a dark period in Australian history.
A well-written, enlightening novel that I found impossible to put down and highly recommend.