We read Felicity McLean’s very filmic debut novel, The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone, with Nick Cave’s Murder Ballads playing in the background. It somehow seemed fitting, as did Portishead’s Dummy, which followed.

Set in a fictional rural location near Sydney, the novel centres on the disappearance of three sisters, Hannah, Cordelia and Ruth Van Apfel, in the fiercely hot summer of 1992. The girls go missing during a school concert held in a landscape that is both harsh and unforgiving. ‘That valley had smelled bad long before any of the Van Apfel girls ever went missing there,’ the narrator, Tikka Malloy, comments. ‘Even from our home high on the western rim, the stench would waft up the fully and smack us in the face on a hot dry day.’

Both Tikka and her sister, Laura, are teenagers when their friends go missing. Twenty years later, Tikka is still haunted by the mystery of the Van Apfels’ disappearance, glimpsing beautiful Cordie Van Apfel, in particular, seemingly at every turn. When circumstances lead Tikka to return home to be with Laura, she tries to untangle what happened.

There’s an underlying tension and melancholy pervading McLean’s novel, further strengthened by Tikka’s questionable memories and the frequent references to one of Australia’s most notorious murder trials, that of Lindy Chamberlain, the mother wrongfully convicted of killing her baby daughter, Azaria.

While inevitable comparisons have been drawn to The Virgin Suicides and Picnic at Hanging Rock, the book stands on its own merits. It is layered, poignant – at times funny, at times raw and rather beautiful. Certainly, McLean is a writer to watch.


The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone | Felicity McLean | Point Blank | hardback | £14.99 | 6 June 2019

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Music to listen to: Lovely Creature’, Nick Cave; ‘Numb’, Portishead; ‘Afternoon sister’, Air; ‘You and your sister’, This Mortal Coil; ‘Today’, Smashing Pumpkins


Acknowledgements: Book text quotes © Felicity McClean 2019. This review is published as part of the Random Things Tour virtual book tour. Please check out the other participants. Many thanks to Anne Cater and also to the publisher for sending us a book proof and the jacket image. All opinions are our own. All rights reserved.


Also of interest:By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept’; ‘Permission by Saskia Vogel’; ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’; ‘The beauty of Tom Cox’s personal landscape‘; ‘Call Me Star Girl’;Falling from the Floating World’; ‘Blood Orange’; ‘Lisa Ko’s The Leavers, Dialogue’s brilliant debut; ‘We should all be feminists’; The not-so-invisible woman: 150 greats in their own words’;RW Kwon’s The Incendiaries’; ‘Beautiful words – The Language of Secrets’; ‘Beauty in translation – Roxanne Bouchard’s French Canadian noir‘; ‘How Penguin learned to fly – Allen Lane and the Original “Penguin Ten”’; Dorothy L. Sayer’s Busman’s Holiday – Romek Marber for Penguin Crime (book covers we love).

Select Q&As/interviews: ‘Meet Paul E. Hardisty’;‘Lilja Sigurðardóttir’; ‘Tom Cox’; ‘Vanda Symon; ‘Gunnar Staalesen’; Some like it hot – the joy of Carole Mortimer, award-winning novelist‘; Gina Kirkham;John Fairfax’; ‘Ian Ridley’; ‘David Stuart Davies’.


This review is © 2019 by The Literary Shed. All rights reserved. All opinions are our own. We welcome your feedback and comments. If you wish to reproduce this piece, please do contact us to request permission. Thank you so much.





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