Author: Susan Allott
Published: April 2021 by The Borough Press (paperback edition)
Category: Literary Fiction, Historical, Mystery, Book Review
A missing woman
30 years ago, in the suffocating heat of a Sydney summer, the Greens’ next-door neighbour Mandy disappeared without a trace.
A cold case reopened
In 1997, in a basement flat in Hackney, Isla Green is awakened by a call in the middle of the night: her father is under suspicion of Mandy’s murder.
A devastating secret
How well does Isla know her father? Is he capable of doing something terrible? And is there another secret in their community – a conspiracy of silence which stretches deep into Australia’s past?
After reading FictionFan’s review I knew this would be a book I’d enjoy, and I certainly did! In 1997 Isla Green was living in London and, awakened at 2am one night by a phone call from her father in Australia, she knew immediately something was wrong. Her father never called. He hated the telephone and always wrote letters.
Thirty years ago, when Isla was living with her parents in Australia, their next door neighbours were Mandy and Steve, another young couple. When Mandy disappeared suddenly it was thought she was escaping from a broken marriage to begin a new life, but she hasn’t been seen or heard from since and her family are trying to contact her. The police now believe Mandy’s disappearance was suspicious, and since Joe Green was the last person to see her alive, he is a person of interest.
She sits cross-legged on the carpet, in the middle of her life, in its crisp central crease. She is thirty-five years old, tall and lean; striking, people say. A body that has been neglected but is still strong, surprisingly resilient. A thick head of hair, cropped short at the back; blonde strands on top that grow up and out, like a dandelion. A woman whose life took a nosedive, who is getting herself together, who needs to be careful. Whose father is silent at the end of the line, asking her wordlessly to come home.
Reluctantly, Isla makes plans to return to Australia after ten years back in England, little realising what secrets will be uncovered. The more she learns the more questions are raised. Is her father really capable of something as terrible as murder? What does her mother believe happened? Both young couples were having problems all those years ago. Isla’s mother, Louisa was homesick, unhappy and expecting her second child. She wanted to go back home to England.
Mandy and Steve also had issues. Steve’s job as a policeman was getting him down, a certain aspect troubling his conscience, coupled with the fact that he was desperate for a child. Mandy was adamant she didn’t want to be a mother and wouldn’t be swayed.
The story alternates in dual timelines between the 1960s and 1990s, paced steadily as the fully developed but dysfunctional characters’ lives begin to unravel realistically and irrevocably. Told mainly from Isla’s and Mandy’s perspectives, The Silence is atmospheric, complex and powerful, exploring the knock on effects of alcoholism, family secrets, adultery and an utterly shameful practice that I was unaware of until now.
An extremely accomplished debut novel — dark, disturbing and multilayered.
Susan Allott is a British writer who lived and worked in Australia in the late nineties. She suffered acute homesickness and returned home to London, only to meet an Australian man who she went on to marry. She and her husband live in south London with their children. Susan’s debut THE SILENCE, which is set in Australia, grew from her need to make amends with a continent that has not let go of her, despite a rocky beginning.