THE PRECIPICE - Virginia Duigan

Review Written By
Karen Chisholm

I suppose finding some sort of "pattern" in what you're reading, when you read a lot of books, is inevitable, but it always intrigues when I find that sort of co-incidence showing up.  At the moment it's well-written unsympathetic, often off-putting characterisations.  THE PRECIPICE has more than one of those in spades.  

Thea Farmer's voice is very realistic, the retired school principal, reclusive, difficult, with a small circle of carefully chosen people she interacts with; her only soft edges come from her relationship with her beloved, and rapidly aging, dog.  Resentful and hostile, she's prickly, acerbic, standoffish and seemingly unable to find anyway to reconcile herself to the loss of her dream home and the invasion of her privacy that this new couple, and the child with them, inflict on her controlled and private world.

This is most definitely not a book for readers who like events declared right up front, and investigations and resolutions with everything neat, tidy and answered at the end.  It's not even a book that declares a "crime" or a problem blatantly, although I suppose it might be possible to take an educated guess at where we could be heading, if you have the time, or the inclination to want to try to double guess the author.  But it's really not that sort of a book.  THE PRECIPICE is very much a psychological thriller, moving seamlessly from the resentful mutterings of a grumpy old woman, through the development of a cessation of hostilities rather than friendship with the young girl, to a minefield of responsibility and dilemma.  There's the odd stutter and stumble along the way - they could be plot vagaries, they could equally be the vagaries of a tricky narrator.  

The book is undoubtedly one of those slow burn, sleeper type thrillers.  The plot's very slow to reveal, which makes the reader really have to concentrate on Thea's life - her main obsessions as well.  She's definitely terse, she's judgemental and more than a bit snobby at points, all of which seem perfectly in character, it's probably a tendency towards whinging that really stood out as a character flaw - somehow that just didn't fit with the rest of the woman's persona.  Having said that, there was something "not quite right" about the new neighbours as well... overly "nice", too contrasted to Thea to be true.  

So far, it sounds like there's not a lot going for THE PRECIPICE, and I can't begin to tell you how surprised I was to find that it had gone from a book to be slogged through, to something unable to be put down.  But it did, and that was quite a while before the "point" of the drama was clearly revealed, before the crime was declared, and some reason for everyone being assembled on the pages was constructed.  Where that happened, when the why or the what or the how became less important and the doing, the build up, the slow reveal really started to work, is still a bit of a mystery to this reader.  But work it did.

Year of Publication

Thea Farmer, 77, a reclusive and difficult retired school principal, lives in isolation with her dog in the Blue Mountains. Her distinguished career ended under a cloud over a decade earlier, following an unspecified scandal involving a much younger male teacher. After losing her savings in the financial crash, she is forced to sell the dream house she had built for her old age and live on in her dilapidated cottage opposite.

Initially extremely resentful and hostile towards Frank and Evelyn, the young couple who buy the new house, she develops a flirtatious friendship with Frank, and then a grudging affinity for his 12-year-old niece, Kim, who lives with them. Thea has never liked children, but she discovers an unexpected bond with  the solitary, half-Vietnamese Kim, an awkward, bookish child from a very deprived background. As Thea and Kim become close, Thea begins to find  Frank's behavior increasingly irresponsible, and to harbor worries that all is not well in the house.

Her growing suspicions, which may or may not be irrational, start to dominate her life, and build to a catastrophic climax.

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