The UW team are very excited to be bringing you our 35th issue in a few weeks: Australian Gothic. To get you in the reading mood for this genre, we’d like to present you with some of the Underground team’s favourite Australian Gothic works! This genre can be tricky to pin down; it’s as much an atmosphere in the writing as a particular setting or plot points, so you might be surprised by some of the books on this list:
Flyaway by Kathleen Jennings is a debut novella that follows nineteen-year-old Bettina Scott, who lives a carefully controlled and blank existence under the watchful eye of her strange mother. Even stranger are the events unfolding in their small town, to the point where Bettina leaves it to discover what happened to her brothers and her father, who vanished mysteriously some time earlier. Bettina goes on a surreal, meandering journey through the world surrounding their town, hearing stories that don’t quite work, meeting people who aren’t all there, and finding out that her family aren’t anything that she expected. There are strong themes of twisted fairy tales and a deep undercurrent of menace throughout this story, the shadowy landscape a manifestation of fear, guilt and retribution that serves as notice of the crimes committed upon it.
Past the Shallows by Favel Parrett is a harrowing story of three brothers growing up on the remote south-east coast of Tasmania. Having lost their mother a few years prior, they are left in the volatile care of their abusive father, an abalone fisherman who harbours a dark secret. With Joe, the eldest son, having moved out some time ago, Miles is left to work on his father’s boat and protect his younger brother, Harry, who often receives the brunt of their father’s abuse. As the story unfolds, secrets are revealed and the brother’s bonds are tested.
Jane Harper’s debut novel The Dry is a quintessential Australian Gothic text set in the small town of Kiewarra, where an apparent familicide has recently been committed. The protagonist, Aaron Falk, an Australian Federal Police investigator, returns to his hometown to assist in the familicide investigation, whilst confronting his childhood past and a close knit community in which he does not belong anymore. The Dry was also recently adapted into a film starring Eric Bana. This debut novel perfectly captures Freud’s ‘uncanny’ in the Australian landscape, creating a truly gothic atmosphere that gives you chills.
Into that Forest by Louis Nowra is a chilling story of two young girls lost in the Tasmanian bush who are then cared for by two Tasmanian Tigers. Their survival for four years is facilitated by the tigers teaching the girls how to make it in the wild. The story is narrated by Hannah O’Brien, whose broken English tells its own tale of her four years in the wild and how the girls make their way back to their own lives outside of the forest. The novel encapsulates the vastness of Australia’s landscape and how the lure of it can see children go missing, apparently vanished.
Still House by Christian White & Summer DeRoche. This Audible exclusive is a wild 4-hour ride, and I loved every minute of it. Walking the line between ghost story and Australian Gothic, this novella follows a couple visiting their investment property near Balarang Creek, when strange occurrences begin to spook them. Their previous tenants have disappeared, but have left the house in utter disarray. What happened inside the now-abandoned country home? Is it something supernatural, or is there a more sinister reality lurking within the walls?
The Survivors by Jane Harper, who seems to be the master of Australian Gothic, and her latest release is no exception. Set on the Tasmanian coast, this book is eerie and atmospheric; the Tasmanian landscape readily lends itself to gothic themes. Kieran Elliot is haunted by the mistakes of his past, and when he pays a visit to his hometown that guilt comes rushing back. If you are a fan of dual timeline stories with a strong mystery element, I highly recommend this book!
Bereft is Chris Womersly’s second novel and follows Quinn Walker as he returns to the small town of Flint after serving in the first world war. Waiting for him is his bedridden mother, dying of influenza, and the mystery of his sister’s murder. Set in the harsh climate of the Australian outback, Quinn finds unexpected solace in the bush and makes an ally with the ghostly presence of a young girl. This is a quick read that contains the dark elements of the Australian Gothic and the suspense of a good mystery.
The Wife and the Widow (TWATW) by Christian White is his second novel, and adheres to the thriller/crime genre he presented in his debut novel. Set on the backdrop of an island town, devoid of tourists in a gusty winter, TWATW is told from two perspectives. There is Kate – the widow – who is suffocated with grief when her husband suddenly dies and his secret second life comes to light; and Abby – the wife – who is an island local uncovering more and more about her husband’s probable guilt. With events and imagery that seem to twist reality, this novel is far more than it appears on the surface.
The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham is a novel that masterfully balances humour with the darkness of ‘Australian Gothic’. Tilly Dunnage—a talented dressmaker who has worked in the fashion houses of Europe—returns to check on her mother in her small hometown of Dungatar, from where Tilly was banished long ago. Despite the locals’ fury, Tilly decides to stay, and as she designs gorgeous dresses for the beguiled townsfolk, it becomes clear that she has plans of revenge brewing. It’s a fantastic novel that balances all elements of ‘Australian Gothic’, and the sequel, The Dressmaker’s Secret, is sitting on my TBR pile, so no spoilers!
What are some of your favourite Australian Gothic titles? If you’re a fan of this genre, keep an eye out for our next issue, UW 35: Australian Gothic, releasing on Patreon 1st of August and on our website from the 5th of August!