Emily O’Grady is the recipient of the Australian/Vogel’s literary award 2018 for her debut crime novel – THE YELLOW HOUSE -which will have readers on the edge of their seats, and demonstrates clear and telling insights into the human condition.
The plot revolves around a rough, dysfunctional family which includes ten year old Cub, her twin brother Wally, older brother Cassie and their parents. Living on an isolated property near an unused cattle farm and knackery, they are shunned by the local community due to crimes committed by the now deceased Granddad Les who resided in the yellow house next door.
Cub’s Aunt Helena and cousin Tilly move into the yellow house. Cub, the narrator, observer and detective, discover secrets and lies which were privy to everyone except her. Once these secrets are revealed, Cub has to face the family’s haunted past, demons and the skeletons in the closet.
THE YELLOW HOUSE deals with many themes; fear and loathing, guilt, shame, (striking the weak, naïve, vulnerable and innocent victims who are threatened into submission and afraid of the repercussions) blame, humiliation and the subjects of friendships and alliances, familial relationships, sibling rivalry, succumbing to peer pressure, injustice, social inequalities, lack of morals and a conscience, also issues of loyalty and betrayal.
The characters fall beneath the cracks. Is the inquisitive Cub immune to the vicious cycle of sadistic behaviour perpetuated by Cassie’s friend Ian who is the embodiment of evil? I felt that his background could have been fleshed out more. Cub’s mother Christine is basically ineffectual and emotionally distant. Colin, Cub’s father tries to be a disciplinarian but to no avail. He also has a soft side.
The plot is propelled by dark undercurrents and creepy overtones. It simmers with tension. Cassie has an ominous sense of foreboding and remarks to Cub, “Do you ever feel like something bad’s going to happen?” The novel keeps one in suspense. All of the characters are intertwined with each other. Bonds are broken as the seedy side of life- the underbelly- is exposed.
Gory details are kept to a minimum. There are poetic lines in the book such as this simile, “He looked up at the sky, which was creamy, like blue food dye whisked through milk.” The use of Australian motifs piques one’s interest.
The novel raises the question of free will, the idea that we all have choices in life; there is cause and effect, action versus inaction. Which path do we pursue? The road of enlightenment, knowing right from wrong or the dark side?
All of the elements of this novel tie in neatly and there is an unexpected ending.
A riveting read. THE YELLOW HOUSE by Emily O‘Grady is published by Allen and Unwin. R.R.P – $29.99.