Kate Hamer (Faber) 2015, 378pp, RRP $29.99
Hamer’s first novel is a compelling read that works as a complex psychological drama, a powerful study of grief, loss and healing, and a pointed attack on religious zealotry, although it does tend to become just a little improbable into its final act.
Single mum Beth lives with her young daughter Carmel, and the details of their close bond is vividly depicted, although we also become aware that Carmel is both very bright and a little strange, her curious daydreams and funny ideas making you wonder if she’s psychic or mentally ill. As Hamer uses the device of having Beth narrate one chapter and Carmel the next, we therefore know what actually happens when Carmel goes missing at a storytelling festival, as Beth’s fears that her child has been murdered are contrasted against Carmel’s new life with ‘Gramps’, who lies to and misleads the kid, insists that she’s in some weird way ‘special’, and spirits her away.
With a tone that shifts from sheer anguish to uneasy mystery to child-like hope to striking suspense, Hamer’s first cab off the rank is an ambitious work which might lose something towards the end but nevertheless remains a satisfying, disquieting page-turner that hints at bolder, creepier things to come.
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