#aww2019 · 2019 Reviews · Australian · contemporary fiction · new release

New Release Book Review: The Lost Summers of Driftwood by Vanessa McCausland

Title: The Lost Summers of Driftwoodthe lost summers of dirftwood small

Author: Vanessa McCausland

Published: December 16th 2019

Publisher: Harper Collins – AU

Pages: 352

Genres:  Fiction, Contemporary

RRP: $29.99

Rating: 4 stars

Is it more dangerous to forget … or to remember?

Phoebe’s life has fallen apart and there’s only one place left to go. Alone and adrift after a failed marriage proposal, she flees Sydney to her family’s abandoned holiday cottage.

On the slow-moving river Phoebe is confronted with the legacy of her older sister’s suicide, a year before. Why did Karin leave a note written in flowers and walk into the water?

Phoebe’s childhood love, Jez, has moved back to the beautiful old house, Driftwood, one jetty down. He’s married now and the home has become a refuge for an unlikely little community.

As the river begins to give up its secrets, Phoebe finds herself caught up in old feelings and new mysteries.

The Lost Summers of Driftwood is a story of lost loves, rekindled passions, tragedy and betrayal set against the backdrop of an idyllic south coast town.


The enticing tagline on the exquisite front cover of Vanessa McCausland’s The Lost Summers of Driftwood asks, is it more dangerous to forget… or to remember? I find this a hard pressed question, throwing all sorts of moral dilemmas. As soon as I took in the front cover of The Lost Summers of Driftwood, I had an inkling that I would be faced with a novel that explores secrets, the past, memories and decisions, within the context of a model Australian setting. The Lost Summers of Driftwood proved to be a consuming read, that I knocked off in just two nights.

The Lost Summers of Driftwood begins with Phoebe, a young woman who sees her carefully ordered life crashing down when her partner dumps her. This also occurs at a crisis point in Phoebe’s career and she is also dealing with the grief over the shock loss of her sister. All these emotionally trying events send Phoebe away from the hustle and bustle of Sydney, to her family’s country based holiday cottage. In this river based locale, Phoebe is haunted by the memories of her sister Karin. She has a strong feeling that Karin didn’t commit suicide, rather, something else happened that Phoebe must resolve.  Back at this beloved old family cottage, Phoebe is also confronted with her first love, Jez. Jez and his wife Asha have made Driftwood their home, which is only metres from Phoebe’s family cottage. Phoebe’s return sparks a flood of memories from her childhood, the past and long held secrets begin to surface. As Phoebe wrestles with these complicated emotions, she must also work to unravel the mystery surrounding her sister’s death. The Lost Summers of Driftwood is a story of suppressed emotions, renewed love, shock secrets and deception, reminding us of the precarious nature of life.

What a lovely gift this book proved to be. I wasn’t expecting The Lost Summers of Driftwood by Vanessa McCausland, it came as a surprise book mail package. This book has been on my wish list since I first set eyes on the beautiful cover. The rose petals and vivid teal background certainly seduced me to skip the order of my review pile and issue priority to Vanessa McCausland’s first book. What I discovered amongst the pages of The Lost Summers of Driftwood was a story of family politics, a lost childhood, complicated relationships and agonising secrets to uncover. I was hooked!

The Lost Summers of Driftwood begins and ends with Phoebe, the lead of this tale. When we first are acquainted with Phoebe, we learn that she has a successful career and she is almost engaged. However, a possible marriage proposal goes terribly wrong and Phoebe ends up with a broken heart. Phoebe is also dealing with the loss of her sister Karin, just a year ago. It all seems to come crashing down at the same moment and Phoebe deals with her mounting problems by escaping to her family’s old holiday cottage. It seemed like a good plan to me!

Initially I felt very sorry for Phoebe and the fact that so many pieces of her life all seemed to splinter simultaneously, it made me want to reach out to her. I liked the fact that Phoebe was able to acknowledge her need to take stock and revitalise her life through a soulful stint at a place that provided comfort to her. It is important to take time out of life when things are not going well. I did admire how Phoebe took charge of her own mental health. However, my relationship with Phoebe grew a little rockier as the book progressed. When Jez, her old boyfriend comes into the picture, I didn’t quite agree with the decisions Phoebe made. Phoebe really drew a line in the sand morally. I can’t say too much, as this would venture into spoiler territory.

Phoebe’s life is also marred by complicated family relations and politics. McCausland explores this well within the pages of her first novel. Running alongside this is the central mystery surrounding Phoebe’s sister’s death. McCausland withholds as much as she can about this mystery until the final hour of the novel, and it kept me intrigued. I enjoyed building a set of theories around Karin’s final fate. I wasn’t quite on the money with this one, but it indicates that McCausland has crafted an intricate mystery.

If you have an appreciation for strong settings, then this one will well and truly hit the spot. McCausland brings the reader a beautifully rendered locale.  The setting of The Lost Summers of Driftwood is incredibly vivid, oozing in mystery, secrets and nostalgia from years gone by. It pervades the whole novel, emitting a scent of tragedy, emotion, complicated relationships, unresolved issues and deception. This is one of the starring features of The Lost Summers of Driftwood .

When The Lost Summers of Driftwood meets its end, we are faced with a slightly open end to this complex family mystery. I felt one or two questions were not completely resolved, but I think we cannot always demand a neatly tied up, or happily ever after in our stories.

The Lost Summers of Driftwood is an intricate and involved tale of personal love, pursuits and the past,  which is all set to a sublime and richly atmospheric Australian based stage. After reading this impressionable novel I have added Vanessa McCausland to my list of valued authors.

The Lost Summers of Driftwood by Vanessa McCausland was published on 16th December 2019 by Harper Collins – AU. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

*I wish to thank Harper Collins Australia for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.

The Lost Summers of Driftwood is book #156 of the 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge



4 thoughts on “New Release Book Review: The Lost Summers of Driftwood by Vanessa McCausland

  1. I’ve had my eye on this, the cover just about jumps off the shelf. I’ll definitely have to put this on my tbr list for 2020. Great review Amanda.


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