Goodwood, Holly Throsby

Reviewed By
Karen Chisholm

Small town living in 1990's Australia is big in GOODWOOD, which is interesting as this is a slow burning, confined, seemingly "small" story in the life of 17 year old Jean. She lives in Goodwood, a small town, near a bigger town, with her mother, near her grandparents, surrounded by people she knows, or is somehow related to, all of whom are known, related to somebody. It's the sort of town where you go to the bigger town to do the big shop, but the local town is where you get the essentials - and the gossip - and the support and understanding. There is so much that rings true about that time, and the reality of small town life that you can really believe / understand how it is that the disappearance of two people from such a small community has such a profound impact. Even more understandable is Jean's confusion and her way of processing not just the disappearances, but the fallout for everyone in the town. Suspicion and fear don't rub along well in a world with, as Jean's Nan puts it, "a high density of acquaintanceship".

Small is a poor description to use for this novel but it's a hard one to explain. It's small in that the location, the events, the impact is local and the ramifications don't seem to stretch much outside the community. It's not small in that those ramifications are pretty shattering for that small a community, but they are illustrated more in the day to day, than in grand psychological analysis. It's also a slow burner, languid, as the mystery behind these two disappearances is used to explore consequence and the impact of the unexpected. Jean's observations about the communities reactions, the slow twitch of discomfort that everyone is experiencing, and the different ways it manifests is beautifully executed. Dryly funny, observant and both young and old for her age, Jean's the perfect sort of character to carry the narrative here forward and a bit sideways at times. GOODWOOD is not really about the investigation of disappearance, it's about the fallout.

Jean's style is enhanced by a great supporting cast, with plenty of believable characters in their own right, many of whom are able to drop a truism into a conversation as effortlessly as they do a little gem of Australian-style wisdom. Jean's Nan made me laugh out loud on more than one occasion, as she let go lines that my own Grandmother would have happily and unflinchingly served up.

GOODWOOD came flagged as a crime fiction novel, and the thing I'm increasingly coming to admire in Australian Crime writing circles is how widely that genre definition is starting to spread. This isn't crime / investigation as mentioned above, but it's definitely possible crime / fallout and ramifications.

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Year of Publication

Goodwood is a small town where everyone knows everything about everyone. It's a place where it's impossible to keep a secret.

In 1992, when Jean Brown is seventeen, a terrible thing happens. Two terrible things. Rosie White, the coolest girl in town, vanishes overnight. One week later, Goodwood's most popular resident, Bart McDonald, sets off on a fishing trip and never comes home.

People die in Goodwood, of course, but never like this. They don't just disappear.

As the intensity of speculation about the fates of Rosie and Bart heightens, Jean, who is keeping secrets of her own, and the rest of Goodwood are left reeling.

Rich in character and complexity, its humour both droll and tender, Goodwood is a compelling ride into a small community, torn apart by dark rumours and mystery. 

Review Goodwood, Holly Throsby
Karen Chisholm
Thursday, August 8, 2019

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