#Book Bingo 2018 is a collaboration challenge I am completing with my favourite blogger, Theresa Smith Writes. How does it work? We have devised our own personalised book bingo card game. Twice a month, on the first and third Saturday of the month, Theresa and I will complete a book review post, outlining our respective bingo card entries. The book bingo card contains a total of 25 squares, which we will complete over the course of the year. To accommodate all the squares, we will be posting additional entries in the months of March and June, this will ensure that we stay on track to complete the book bingo game by December. To keep things interesting for ourselves and those following along with us, the choice of bingo square to be covered will be entirely down to us. We invite you to join us in this fun book related challenge, by linking your bingo card entries in the comments section of this post or by visiting Theresa Smith Writes.
Even before I knew anything about Granddad Les, Wally and me sometimes dared each other to see how close to the knackery we could get. It was way out in the bottom paddock, and Dad had banned us from going further than the dam. Wally said it was because the whole paddock was haunted. He said he could see ghosts wisping in the grass like sheets blown from the washing line. But even then I knew for sure that was a lie.
Ten-year-old Cub lives with her parents, older brother Cassie, and twin brother Wally on a lonely property bordering an abandoned cattle farm and knackery. Their lives are shadowed by the infamous actions of her Granddad Les in his yellow weatherboard house, just over the fence.
Although Les died twelve years ago, his notoriety has grown in Cub’s lifetime and the local community have ostracised the whole family.
When Cub’s estranged aunt Helena and cousin Tilly move next door into the yellow house, the secrets the family want to keep buried begin to bubble to the surface. And having been kept in the dark about her grandfather’s crimes, Cub is now forced to come to terms with her family’s murky history.
The Yellow House is a powerful novel about loyalty and betrayal; about the legacies of violence and the possibilities of redemption.
Child narrators have had plenty of air time over the last year, with a number of high quality Australian novels released with this type of young narrator dictating the events of a compelling story. Powerful novels that spring to my mind immediately include, To Become a Whale by Ben Hobson and The Choke by Sofie Laguna. This year’s highly regarded The Australian/Vogel Literary Award winner, twenty seven year old Emily O’Grady, arrives on the scene with a different take on this popular and engrossing style of narration. The Yellow House is narrated by a perceptive ten year old child named Cub, as she negotiates a tricky life, marred by a serious crime that has left a huge stain on her unstable family unit.
The Yellow House concerns itself around the lives of Cub, her twin brother Wally, older brother Cassie, their parents, Aunty and cousin. The family lives on a fairly isolated rural property, which features a knackery, an old cattle farm and plenty of free space to roam. Bordering Cub’s family home is the infamous ‘yellow house’ that was once inhabited by her Grandfather Les, who was the perpetrator of a number of heinous crimes. Now the yellow house is home to Helena, Cub’s Aunty and her daughter Tilly. We quickly learn of the serious and long lasting impact the crimes of Grandad Les has had on the family. The community have shunned Cub and her family. It has clearly been tough going for each and every member of this family, impacting them in different ways. Although Cub is a naive young girl, her eyes are opened when the ‘yellow house’ reveals its secrets. Long buried crimes of the past, a troubled family history, dark truths and a tragic legacy all have a part to play in Emily O’Grady’s powerful debut novel.
It seems a shame that I didn’t get to The Yellow House much earlier in the year. After it won the prestigious The Australian/Vogel Award, I recall sourcing a copy at a local bookshop. I had all good intentions of reading it then and there based on all the positive praise it has received, but it has taken me a good part of the year to finally delve into the pages of this engrossing novel. Very early on I could see why this book was awarded such a lucrative literary prize. The Yellow House is a standout, it is a one of a kind novel that is defined by exceptional writing. I believe this is down to the distinctive voice of the central narrator, the refined writing style, the rich imagery and the nature of the plot. When you put all of these ingredients together, you end up with a prize winning novel.
The Yellow House features a very special narrator, it didn’t take long for young Cub to work her way into my soul and she gave me her everything as I shared her emotional journey. I felt so much compassion for Cub, her circumstances are pretty dire, to say the least. Her family are battlers. They are also incredibly complicated, messy and at many times neglectful. Cub’s mother deserved a huge wake up call, she spends so much time in bed wallowing in her family guilt and she shows little affection for her children (with the exception of older child Cassie in moments). While Cub’s Dad reminds me of the typical parenting style that my husband experienced in the 1970s, children should be seen, not heard. The father figure has only a small level of redemption. I didn’t care for him but he was well drawn by O’Grady. Meanwhile, we tussle with Cub as she struggles with her relationship with her twin Wally, which is juxtaposed with her adoration for her older brother Cassie. Added to the mix are family members Aunt Helena and her daughter Tilly whom Cub desperately wants to forge a relationship with, but this all seems to fall in a heap. The added complication of Cassie’s troubled friend Ian throws a big spanner in the works plot wise. I’m afraid I won’t be going into any further detail on this as I am conscious of delivering spoilers.
O’Grady writes beautifully. She has unique style of prose that is understated and complicit. She manages to convey so much within in short frame. It is difficult to encapsulate the voice of a ten year old with so much baggage, but O’Grady succeeds in her portrayal of Cub. The decision to centre the narration in the first person voice of Cub for the entire novel was a judicious move that serves to augment this novel to a higher level. It is no wonder that The Yellow House has attracted so much positive praise. Readers will find that although this book has been shelved as a literary fiction title, it is an approachable novel. I found it hard to put down and I wasn’t able to stop thinking about it, long after I had closed the book. It is a book that has the capability to leave a blemish on your mind. O’Grady serves up plenty of issues for the reader to speculate on, from the impact of serious crimes on families, responsibility, owning up to your actions, relationships, friendships, adolescence, parenthood and community perceptions. All of these areas are touched on with great insight by Emily O’Grady, a talented young writer, who appears wise beyond her years.
The crime mystery aspect of The Yellow House is what really pulled me into the vortex of this great novel. The serious crime aspects are covered almost from the very opening of the novel, so the intrigue is set early on in the proceedings. There are obvious links between the crimes of Grandad Les and the infamous Ivan Milat murders. In fact, I did come across of snippet of information on the inspiration for this novel, which came from Emily O’Grady’s interest in serious crimes and in particular, a crime that was committed by a relative of Ivan Milat’s, after his crime spree. This sets a gut churning sense of dread, which is a feeling that runs all the way through this novel. The Yellow House also zones in on the concept of the reverberation and it thoughtfully examines how such an awful series of crimes can feed into subsequent violent crimes by family or local community members.
It does seem like there is so much despair in this novel and awful things happening, but the beacon of light in this story is Cub. She is an infectious character that you will want to embrace and not let go. It is hard to definitively say whether or not The Yellow House represents Cub’s coming of age story, but it does deal with her troubled upbringing, the life lessons she learns along the way, as well as her recognition of the impact of her family’s damaging legacy. The Yellow House was an almost perfect read, albeit for a few unanswered questions I had about the main plot focus. The author may have deliberately intended for this aspect of the book to remain open to interpretation, but I am the type of reader who would have preferred a definitive answer to the crime mystery thread. Despite this gripe, I am still in awe of The Yellow House.
Emily O’Grady is a cultivated and extremely talented young writer, who has clearly made an impression on the Australian publishing market with her remarkable debut novel, The Yellow House. The narration is authentic, the dialogue buffed to perfection, the subject matter is considerate and it is clearly marked with a distinct sinking feeling of pure dread, stemming from the events spiralling around this gripping novel. Astonishing, spine tingling and impressionable, I hope to hear more from Emily O’Grady.
The Yellow House by Emily O’Grady was published on April 23rd 2018 by Allen & Unwin. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
The Yellow House is book #145 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge