What’s the average half-life of the run-of-the-mill family secret? Couple of hours? A few weeks? Until the family reunion at the next long weekend? After all, how long do secrets remain secret? But how about something a little darker, more sinister perhaps, than “average”? How long might something like that remain under wraps, before being dragged into the cold light of day?
Or, in this case, the noon-day sun on a blistering summer’s day, on one of Sydney’s northern beaches. This is where adult siblings Louisa, Jack, and Phoebe find themselves, twenty years after the disappearance of a teenage girl, someone they knew, in Bluebottle (published by Allen & Unwin, 2018), the third novel of Sydney based Australian author Belinda Castles.
Their father, Charlie, had always been impulsive and hot-headed. For instance, he brought the family a new home, on a cliff above Bilgola Beach, without telling anyone beforehand. Then, shortly after the family moves into the house, Monica, the girl living next door at their old place, vanishes. At the same time Charlie begins acting strangely, while their mother withdraws into herself.
It all leads Louisa and Jack to believe Charlie had something to do with it. But answers are scant, and as time passes the siblings choose to put the matter behind them, and get on with their lives. But in returning to the house two decades later, it is clear the riddle has been eating at them.
For its intriguing premise however, Bluebottle can’t seem to decide if it a portrait of a dysfunctional family, or a tale of mystery. The descriptions of the sun soaked beaches of Sydney’s north, may be evocative, beautifully written even, but they also serve to bog the story down. Some readers may find Bluebottle takes a little too long gain momentum, only to find themselves somewhere they weren’t expecting to be when the curtain finally falls.