The Silence by Susan Allot

I read this in one sitting. The Silence has a strong opening chapter. We meet Isla, a woman struggling with alcoholism living in London in the late 90’s, when she gets a call from her father in Sydney, Australia, asking her to come home. He’s being investigated for the murder of a woman who lived next door 30 years ago, who was presumed to have moved away but has apparently actually been missing this whole time. Isla comes home, knowing that her mother thinks her father is guilty.

The book takes in Isla in the 90s, but it largely set in the 60’s, where Mandy, the missing woman, is still alive. We meet her and slowly learn more about Isla’s parents and their entanglement with Mandy and her husband.

The backdrop to this is the children of the Stolen Generation. Mandy’s husband Steve is a policeman tasked with going to the homes of indigenous people and taking their children away from them, so they would be raised away from their culture or sometimes raised as white. It was essentially a plan to eradicate them and it went on from about the 40’s to the 70’s. Absolutely horrible. The silence of the title refers to a few things, but references the silence of Australian colonial history. It’s just not talked about, brushed under the rug. I remember hearing about the Stolen Generations as a kid and it haunted me. When I was at University, a man talked to us about his experience as one of these stolen children, and I’ve never forgotten it. Harrowing.

So, there are some parts of this book that really got under my skin.

I don’t know if it’s just me, because I don’t live in Australia, but I feel like I don’t come across many Australian stories. This is written by a Brit who spent time in Australia working, and who is married to an Australian. So I don’t know if it counts as Australian literature, but she has the patois down and she certainly knows the atmosphere and recreates it really well. I am always drawn to stories set here, even though they make me nostalgic for gumtrees and the sound of cockatoos.

While I was drawn to this because of it’s location, then, I devoured it because it’s so good. I love that you’re hit hard in the first chapter, no messing around. And I love that sense that Isla loves her Dad, but her own Mother thinks he killed Mandy next door. That’s juicy. And then it unravels, we start to get to know everyone, and who has secrets and who saw what…. Thinking back, I think there was something about each character that was not great, not nice, and yet they’re all pretty real. You understand where they’re coming from and why they make the decisions they do. Everyone seems to be unraveling, but all looks neat and tidy on the suburban street. Behind closed doors in another matter.

The book is a drama of human lives, secrets and abuse, but it’s also a mystery at it’s core. What happened to Mandy? Or even, who is Mandy, since Isla doesn’t remember her? The more I got to know her character, the more I wondered, and wanted to know, dreading finding out because I started to quite like her. I love a good mystery, and get drawn in to wondering how it was all going to go, who was responsible,… I really enjoyed that. I love a good mystery, and the family drama and dynamics were really good too.

After finishing it, I was left thinking about the characters. I disliked some of the more sympathetic characters, and liked some of the ones who perhaps were not actually so nice. Mandy isn’t perfect, and is quite immoral, and yet I liked her kindness. Louisa, Isla’s mother, I did not like, and yet, she’s not such a bad person. I like books like this that make you think.

Read It If: highly recommend this one, it’s a great drama, has some dark and emotional stuff in it, and it all hangs together on a mystery. I will say, the family dynamic is abusive, so this might be hard for some readers.

Thank you Harper Collins for this book for review. All opinions are my own honest thoughts. The Silence is out on 19th May, 2020.

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