Genre: General Fiction
Goodwood is a story with a mystery at its heart, but a dark and sinister thriller it ain’t. Nor is it YA, despite being narrated by a seventeen-year-old. I know, I know: stop telling us what it isn’t and show us what it is. Writing one-oh-one, I get it. But it’s tricky to describe Goodwood without making it sound like a YA crime novel, and I want to avoid confusion.
I have to admit, I wasn’t sure what to expect heading into Goodwood because the blurb could easily be ripped from a small town YA thriller:
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.
See what I mean? I’m not criticising the blurb (I couldn’t do better myself, hence my lazy cut n’ paste job), but paired with the cover, the design of which is reminiscent of the small town souvenir tea towels that once populated the kitchens of Australia, I was a bit confused about the kind of story this was going to be.
So, what is it? *Clears throat*
Holly Throsby’s Goodwood (Allen & Unwin, Sep. 2016) is a droll and keenly observed study of the bonds that unite tight communities and the secrets that threaten to undo them.
It’s also as Australian as Vegemite on toast, and the fictional town of Goodwood could be reminiscent of any number of small, regional communities in the early 90s:
A green sign announced the township as you drove in—past the Bowlo, past the oval, under the mountain. Welcome to Goodwood, it said, with the sound of the brown river and the smell of cows and fish. Front doors hung wide open in warm weather. The bar at the Wicko hummed with drinking. Wood-panelled television sets glowed and flickered on living room walls of an evening. Backyard swing sets creaked with children. People died of heart attacks and strokes and cancers and time, lying in their beds at twilight, or sitting in their cushioned reading chairs.
The story goes to some pretty dark places, but Jean is a nigh unflappable narrator, recounting her tale with deadpan, laconic wit (the style reminded me of The Castle, but a bit more subtle). The dialogue is on point, too, and peppered with colloquialisms that we don’t hear enough of these days:
‘Joyce!’ said Shirl ‘I haven’t seen you for donks! Happy birthday, love,’ and they settled in for a brief, arthritic hug.
But while Throsby gently pokes fun at small town Australia, she avoids venturing into cliche territory and the book is overwhelmingly affectionate and sincere.
Also, the characters are a particularly loveable bunch: gossipy, flawed and often eccentric with a secret or two they’d rather not parade down the main street, but they know when to set aside their differences and rally as a community. And I think that’s what ultimately won me over in Goodwood: Rosie and Bart’s disappearances force the town to look beneath the surface and face some hard truths, but when all the muck’s out in the open, the community stays strong.
The one thing that didn’t quite seem to work was Jean’s relationship with Evie, or rather, how it’s integrated with the larger story. Evie is new in town—her family arrives around the time of the disappearances—and Jean’s immediately drawn to her. They meet near the start of the book, but then Evie drops out of the story for long stretches (at least that’s how it felt). Jean clearly has strong feelings for her, but she doesn’t share much about that with the reader, so that every time Evie reappears, it’s a bit of a surprise, like: ‘Oh, that’s right, she’s part of this story too.’ I get that Evie is Jean’s secret, and that for Jean she represents something thrilling and unfamiliar and new (everything Goodwood isn’t), so it makes sense for Jean to keep their relationship separate from the main story, but it felt a little tacked on and Evie is one of the few characters who isn’t fleshed out. Given how important their relationship is to Jean, and the turning point it represents for her, I wish it had been a bigger part of the story.
I also found the narrative perspective a little confusing in places. The story is told in first person by Jean, but there are a number of scenes that she describes, in great detail, but doesn’t witness. I think the idea is that the story ultimately becomes town legend, and she gathers those details from talking with the other townsfolk, but that’s not made clear.
Overall though, Goodwood is a cracking read: observant, wry and thoroughly entertaining. A perfect choice for summer beach reading.
Thank you to Allen & Unwin for providing a copy of Goodwood in exchange for an honest review.
Thanks also to Grammarly for picking up four critical issues and twelve advanced issues in my draft of this review. If, like me, you have trouble with typos, do give Grammarly a go!
Like what you see? Keep in touch: