Title: The Curlew’s EyeAuthor: Karen Manton
Genre: Gothic/crime fiction
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
The Curlew’s Eye is told through Greta’s perspective. Greta’s partner Joel grew up with five brothers and a sister in a small town in the Northern Territory. All Greta knows is that Joel has many scars from this time and he never speaks about the death of his mother and sister. Greta and Joel aren’t the kind to put down roots, so they’ve traveled around Australia with their three boys, finding work wherever they go. Now, they return to Joel’s hometown to help out his brother who wants to renovate their old property for sale. As their work progresses, Greta is drawn into the mysteries of the place. She becomes determined to make sense of Joel’s unspoken past, and in turn has to face her own.
The Curlew’s Eye is an atmospheric and unsettling tale. I was drawn to it as it was marketed as a ‘gothic mystery’ and an Australian crime fiction. It certainly has elements of the gothic genre, with sharp imagery of birds and an eerie environment that its characters are at the mercy of. But as a whole, this novel diverged from what I have come to expect from mystery books.
Manton is skilled at building imagery and atmosphere. Eyes and birds are repeatedly featured, watching over Greta’s every move and questioning her actions: ‘two black cockatoos glided past. Their wing beat was slow, and slow too their raucous screech, Why, why have you come here?’ Not only does this build a uniquely Australian environment, I also felt it created discomfort and tension.
However, though the imagery is beautiful, occasionally the descriptions were dense. At times the sun, the grass, the sky, and the animals would be described across the space of a page. As this style of prose is not something I would usually be drawn to, I found it difficult to engage with. Similarly, there are a lot of characters. Joel is one of six siblings, while he and Greta have three children. Add all the people they meet during their stay and I found it was a lot to keep track of, which sometimes impeded the flow of the story.
Something I did enjoy about this book was how it diverged from my expectations of mystery. Instead of unravelling clues to expose a murderer or villain, The Curlew’s Eye felt more about uncovering the truth about what haunts us. There is no question that something ominous had occurred in Joel and Greta’s pasts, but I found the story to be more interested in why they were haunted more than the specifics of what had happened.
I think The Curlew’s Eye would be particularly appealing to readers who have experienced the landscape and atmosphere of the northern territory because this book does such a good job of depicting it. It would also be particularly interesting for anyone who is intrigued by the supernatural elements of the outback and how loss can haunt our souls. Fans of Australian mysteries would also enjoy it.