Author: Kathy George
Genre: Australian Gothic fiction
Publisher: HQ Fiction
Published: February 2021
This review was first published in issue 35: Australian Gothic
There is something at work in my soul,Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
Which I do not understand.
If the epigraph of Sargasso is a quantifier of what the contents of Kathy George’s novel will entail, then readers will be highly satisfied with what they discover. Quoting Mary Shelley, arguably the mother of science fiction and queen of all things gothic, is not to be taken lightly when opening a piece of gothic fiction. And Sargasso definitely delivers a gothic tale which will stay within your souls for days.
George’s Sargasso is a quintessential piece of Australian Gothic literature which doesn’t hold back. I found myself avoiding reading Sargasso at night because it effortlessly captures a sense of unease. George draws the reader in with her consumable writing style but confronts the reader with subtle moments that build up into an unsettling atmosphere.
I dived straight into the novel knowing that it would be ‘gothic’ and, of course, at times scary, but I didn’t expect to feel so uneasy so early on. Within the first few chapters, Hannah finds herself alone, without her boyfriend and her cat missing, in her seaside childhood home (named Sargasso after the Atlantic Sargasso Sea). The Sargasso house which Hannah has inherited is described as a feat of architecture and beautiful but I was quick to learn that the house is something akin to the 2006 computer-animated film, ‘Monster House.’ When Sargasso is described as breathing and sighing and calling out Hannah’s name, it is clear that all is not what it seems. Things quickly take a turn for the worse when Hannah finds herself reunited with Flint, her childhood friend who no one could see but herself. Now that time has passed since Hannah was a child Flint has become more possessive over Hannah and she struggles to determine what is real.
Sargasso is without a doubt a gothic novel but what is so refreshing to read is George’s attention to setting. The Sargasso house is built in a cove along the Western coast two hours out of Melbourne. And while I’ve never been outside of Melbourne CBD, I can easily imagine what Sargasso might look like and the tumultuous nature of the ocean that accompanies the house. From the rocky cliff side to the small town with its cracking sidewalks, I am reminded of beachside holidays, though I can confidently say my holidays were never like Hannah’s time at Sargasso. George’s writing is what brings the setting home to me. Everything is described in such detail, without feeling like I was being bogged down by information, to create a setting that is recognisable whilst at the same time being secluded, isolated, and fictional. And while the setting of Sargasso is Australian, I do not think it would be inaccessible for readers who aren’t familiar with a coastal Australian setting.
Sargasso is a fantastic work of Australian gothic and one that truly pulls the reader into the story. George’s novel is the perfect read for people who adore horror or mystery and are looking for something a little bit different but not completely out of the realms of their comfort zone. Sargasso is made to be read in the cold, gloomy, winter Australian months so go out there and grab yourself a copy!