Vanessa McCausland’s latest novel, The Valley of Lost Stories (HarperCollins, 2020), is a beautifully written story which takes place largely in a creepy abandoned mining town.
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.– HarperCollins Australia
This was a beautiful read.
McCausland excels in writing this landscape to the point that the Capertee Valley almost becomes a character itself. The Valley is full of power, haunting, disorienting, enchanting and sublime, and its traumatic history and its impact on the characters makes for a rich and compelling saga.
This novel was full of twists and turns that (I’m not ashamed to say) gave me visceral reactions of fury on behalf of the characters at some times, and extreme cringe with them at others, but mostly I was just desperate to know what would happen next.
I want to make special mention of the characterisation of Pen, one of the protagonists and the mother of a neurodiverse child. It is so easy for authors to gloss over the complexities of parenting a child with additional needs sometimes, or impose trope-like personalities on them, but I felt like McCausland treated her character with respect and sensitivity, which made Pen’s struggles and spiritual growth both enriching and endearing.
I absolutely loved reading this book. McCausland is such a talented author, and I can’t wait to see what she comes out with next.