I’m delighted to be sharing my thoughts on the stunning debut novel by Susan Allott, The Silence as part of the blog tour. With thanks to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part.
It is 1997, and in a basement flat in Hackney Isla Green is awakened by a call in the middle of the night: her father, Joe, phoning from Sydney.
30 years ago, in the suffocating heat of summer 1967, the Greens’ next-door neighbour Mandy disappeared. Joe claims he thought she had gone to start a new life; but now Mandy’s family is trying to reconnect, and there is no trace of her. Isla’s father was allegedly the last person to see her alive, and he’s under suspicion of murder.
Back home in Sydney, Isla’s search for the truth takes her back to 1967, when two couples lived side by side on a quiet street by the sea. Could her father be capable of doing something terrible? How much does her mother know? And is there another secret in this community, one which goes deeper into Australia’s colonial past, which has held them in a conspiracy of silence?
The Silence by Susan Allott is a heart-breaking and an enlightening read. Susan Allott explores a part of Australian history in her debut novel, which I’m ashamed to say, I never even knew about. It made me wonder why this part of history isn’t taught in schools or more widely known. What Susan Allott describes in her book is truly horrific, and it compelled me to find out more about what happened. This is what made reading the author notes at the end of the book, all the more interesting.
The novel is set in 1997. We meet Isla, who is at home in London when she receives a call from her dad early in the morning. The call is an alarming one. The police are investigating her dad on being involved in the disappearance of one of their neighbours thirty years earlier. The woman, Mandy, used to look after Isla when she was a child growing up in Australia in the late sixties. But her dad was the last person to see Mandy alive. Isla must return home to Australia and confront the awful truth that her father may not be the man who she thought she knew.
Susan’s writing really drew me into this tale. There’s a dark sense of foreboding right from the beginning, and I felt that nothing was as it seems. After Isla travels back to Australia to be with her family, Susan then takes us back to 1967. The events that take place in these chapters lead up to Mandy’s disappearance and the uncomfortable truth. It is in this part of the novel that Susan explores what happened to children of Aboriginal families during this period. This took place between 1910 and 1970. One of the characters, Steve, is a police officer, and he is charged with removing children from Aboriginal families. One young boy Steve takes a particular shine to, and he promises the boy’s mother that he will look after him and give him a good life.
Susan Allott weaves a cleverly constructed tale around these events. I could feel Steve’s longing to have a child of his own, particularly when Mandy, his wife, doesn’t appear keen to have children. I could understand why he wanted to raise the child he took as his own, but his decision that day was certainly not fraught with risk.
Isla puts herself close to danger as she fights to find the real truth behind Mandy’s disappearance and my eyes were kept glued to the pages as the Susan revealed what really happened.
The Silence is a compelling and powerful read. Susan Allott is a writer to watch.
Publisher: The Borough Press
Publication date: 6th August 2020
Print length: 368 pages
The Silence is available to buy:
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