#aww2021 · 2020 Reviews · contemporary fiction · dual time frame · new release

New Release Book Review: The Valley of Lost Stories by Vanessa McCausland

Title: The Valley of Lost Stories

Author: Vanessa McCausland

Published: December 2nd 2020

Publisher: HarperCollins Books Australia

Pages: 416

Genres:  Fiction

RRP: $32.99

Rating: 4.5 stars

Beautiful, beguiling and treacherous … Big Little Lies meets Picnic at Hanging Rock in a secluded valley over the Blue Mountains.

Four women and their children are invited to the beautiful but remote Capertee Valley, west of the Blue Mountains.

Once home to a burgeoning mining industry, now all that remains are ruins slowly being swallowed by the bush and the jewel of the valley, a stunning, renovated Art Deco hotel. This is a place haunted by secrets. In 1948 Clara Black walked into the night, never to be seen again.

As the valley beguiles these four friends, and haunts them in equal measure, each has to confront secrets of her own: Nathalie, with a damaged marriage; Emmie, yearning for another child; Pen, struggling as a single parent; and Alexandra, hiding in the shadow of her famous husband.

But as the mystery of what happened seventy years earlier unravels, one of the women also vanishes into this bewitching but wild place, forcing devastating truths to the surface.

Review:

‘So many stories lost, steeped into the soil, into the valley’s soul.’

Haunting, resplendent, bewitching and intriguing, The Valley of Lost Stories is the second release from Australian writer Vanessa McCausland. A story bathed in mystery, speculation, convoluted secrets and shocking truths, The Valley of Lost Stories is a seducing tale from a storyteller I hold in high regard.

Vanessa McCausland introduces four women in the contemporary timeline of her second novel, as they embark on an unexpected trip to a remote location of the Blue Mountains. When the group arrive at Capertee Valley, they learn that the hotel in which they are staying is the only landmark remaining in the once busy mining town. It is also the site of the mysterious disappearance of a woman who went missing over seven decades ago. This baffling local mystery has never been solved and it seems to have left its mark on this struggling township. As the story gradually unfolds, we learn more about the four women who have come to stay at this Art Deco hotel and their individual struggles.  As the holiday progresses, each guest must come face to face with their personal challenges and secrets. From marriage strains, to parenting issues and betrayals, this is a time of reckoning for the group. In a tragic turn of events, the present begins to echo the past when one woman from the group goes missing. Will Capertee Valley give up its dark truths and devastating secrets?

I was eager to immerse myself in the pages of Vanessa McCausland’s second novel, especially after I viewed the alluring front cover and intriguing blurb. The setting also appealed to me as I would dearly love to visit the Blue Mountains region. This stunning and eerie Australian landscape has been the inspiration for a number of stories I have enjoyed in the past, such as Picnic at Hanging Rock and Currawong Manor. I will be honest and say that it wasn’t until the first third of the book that I really developed a strong and lasting connection to this novel, which surprised me. However, the tale at hand managed to capture me completely from this point to the close of the novel.

The Valley of Lost Stories is told via the viewpoint of a number of narrators. McCausland’s second novel also carefully floats from contemporary times, to a past storyline set in 1948. I don’t have a problem with split style narratives or multiple narrators and this was the case with Vanessa McCausland’s latest release. McCausland deftly moves from the past to the present and she jumps from one head to another with ease. As a result, a full and varied picture develops of the events of this novel. McCausland devotes plenty of page time to setting her scene which allows the reader to become acquainted with each of the four women who come to Capertee Valley. Due to the strong focus on the lives of these women I found I was able to directly relate to their experiences, which are divulged as the story progresses. Many of these issues were authentic and realistic, allowing a sense of empathy to develop between the reader and the cast. This strong exploration of the issues plaguing the key protagonists of The Valley of Lost Stories provides Vanessa McCausland with the space to explore themes such as motherhood, parenting, marriage, relationships, desire, female friendships, jealousy, loss, abuse, trauma, depression and alcoholism. McCausland treats of these issues with an air of sensitivity and understanding.

The starring feature of The Valley of Lost Stories is undoubtedly the setting, which is shrouded in mystery and tension. Thanks to the generous and vibrant descriptions offered by this well-versed author, a refined portrait develops of this mystical locale. As I travelled along my journey with the women of The Valley of Lost Stories, I found myself imagining the thick bushland, dangerous cliffs, stunning local wildflowers and derelict mine quarters of this once thriving community. This tight and stretched atmosphere is where the historical thread plays out, as we learn of the baffling disappearance of a woman who went missing from the area in post war times. I really appreciated the way that McCausland handled this element of her novel. Likewise, the revelation of the devastating local Indigenous history, which was marred by violence, trauma and unforgivable acts sent shivers down my spine. All this culminates in a strong past to present style drama. The Valley of Lost Stories left a definite mark on my heart and mind.

Explore the dark secrets, trenchant history, contemporary struggles and overwhelming personal stories present in The Valley of Lost Stories by Vanessa McCausland. Whether you are a fan of mystery titles, historical fiction or contemporary tales, this one will appeal.

The Valley of Lost Stories by Vanessa McCausland was published on 2nd December 2020 by HarperCollins Books Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of The Valley of Lost Stories, Vanessa McCausland visit here.

The Valley of Lost Stories is book #1 of the 2021 Australian Women Writers Challenge

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