“The Virgin Suicides meets Jasper Jones meets Picnic At Hanging Rock …”
Book comparisons can be a minefield at the best times. It can often create false impressions or even foster big expectations or are just plain wildy off the mark. But when but when I read this book comparison I knew I had to read The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone. And the novel hits all these notes and them some. Faintly echoing the comparison but at the same time carving out its own unique story and style. In fact I got the same reading buzz reading this novel as I did when I read Trent Dalton’s Boy Swallows Universe last year. It is addictive. It is mysterious. It is compulsive and it is going to be one of the big books of 2019.
Set in the outer suburbs of Brisbane the story is told from the point of view of Tikka Murphy who has just returned to the family home after receiving news of her sister’s illness. The return home triggers memories of the disappearance of The Vapfel Sisters; Hannah, Cordelia and Ruth; 20 years earlier. An event that changed Tikka’s world forever.
Tikka recounts the events surrounding the girls’ disappearance. The fallout, the events leading up to their vanishing and the night they disappeared itself. It was the summer of 1992 and through 11 year old Tikka we relive that summer. The ups and downs of school and the ins and outs of life in the Brisbane suburbs; living in a Cul De Sac surrounded by bushland and the oppressive heat of an Australian summer. We get to know the three Van Appfel girls through Tikka’s interactions with them; the younger, ever hungry Ruth, the mysterious and aloof Cordelia and the eldest Hannah, best friends with Tikka’s older sister Laura. Their lives seem just as mysterious as their eventual disappearance but as Tikka reassembles her memories from twenty years ago a dark edge becomes more visible and Tikka begins to question her own part in their disappearance and how everything played out in those last few days and whether or not events could have played out any differently.
This is an outstanding debut novel. Told with great black humour and a strong dose of quintessential Australian gothicism. Just like the Van Apfel girls themselves this novel will draw you in, completely captivate you and then leave you searching for more.