Book review: In the Clearing by JP Pomare

Wednesday, December 25, 2019 Permalink

JP Pomare’s Call Me Evie, released in 2018, was set in New Zealand (and Australia) and centred around a young woman with quite a complex ‘before’ and ‘after’ story to share. It didn’t flow quite as seamlessly as I would have liked, but I certainly didn’t find it predictable.

Pomare’s followed his popular debut with another kinda creepy and suspenseful tale that’s more polished and the ‘unknown’ more deftly handled than his debut. There is however a similar theme around identity; and its fragility when our spirit or psyche is threatened.

Book review: In the Clearing by JP PomareIn The Clearing
by J.P. Pomare
Published by Hachette Australia
on 31/12/2019
Source: Hachette Australia
Genres: Thriller / Suspense
ISBN: 1869713397
Pages: 328

Amy has only ever known what life is like in the Clearing. She knows what's expected of her.
She knows what to do to please her elders, and how to make sure life in the community remains happy and calm. That is, until a new young girl joins the group. She isn't fitting in; she doesn't want to stay. What happens next will turn life as Amy knows it on its head.

Freya has gone to great lengths to feel like a 'normal person'. In fact, if you saw her go about her day with her young son, you'd think she was an everyday mum. That is, until a young girl goes missing and someone from her past, someone she hasn't seen for a very long time, arrives in town.

As Amy and Freya's story intertwines the secrets of the past bubble up to the surface. This rural Aussie town's dark underbelly is about to be exposed and lives will be destroyed.

This book unfolds in two threads. Amy is a teenager and member of a cult. And then there’s Freya, whose name may (or may not) be Freya, as she uses her name in third person at times and talks a lot about role-playing.

I learnt how to behave by watching others, slowly building up an ideal of a person, but if you were to slide a scalpel from my head down to my toes, an entirely different woman might climb out. There’s an art in the small details, the idiosyncrasies that make someone convincing….

We all act; I’m just better at it than you. pp 9-10

We learn much about Amy’s life through her diaries as well as events unfolding after a 7yr old girl is ‘liberated’ or ‘collected’ from the outside world to join her family.

Amy is given some responsibility for her new ‘sister’ by her mother, the ‘Queen’ of their cult and apparently the reincarnation of Jesus Christ. They’ve nearly got their full contingent of 12 children but Amy is starting to question some of what she’s told by her elders.

She confesses to violent thoughts at times but forces herself to chase deviant thoughts from her mind, as her beliefs mean there’s only room for the Truth. It’s through Amy we learn some of the cult’s habits, including the process of ‘realigning’ its members. I was interested in the operations (and plans) of the group and felt readers would have benefited from more detail, but at the same time realise we are limited by Amy’s naiveté and young years.

Freya’s equally honest and her story slowly unfolds. There’s reference to her being accused of endangering a child in the past, and Pomare cleverly keeps us guessing about that for some time. ‘Is the child still alive?’ we wonder, as she has a son, Billy, who’s in her care but of whom she’s ridiculously protective. ‘Or did her child die?’

Freya seems sane – if slightly paranoid – and contented in her small but private life. She’s blunt with us about her history of mental illness but her overly cautious approach to life makes it obvious she has her secrets.

There’s mention of her mother (with dementia) and brother, as well as a step-father who’ll soon be released from prison. She’s afraid of something. Or someone.

There’s a very clever twist part-way through this novel. I can’t help but think surprises are trickier nowadays as so many writers are finding increasingly clever ways to fool readers, to dislodge us from our complacency or offer up a level of discomfort we didn’t see coming.  I feel as if we’re more cynical and distrustful so it’s harder to challenge us to question what we think we know.

Pomare doesn’t stop the surprises coming – right up until the end. I’d misunderstood one of our narrators’ a-ha moments and so pre-guessed one, though was lulled into that sense of complacency for a while.

This is a great read by Pomare. It’s well-written and paced and certainly didn’t go in the direction I expected.

I think he does a great job at looking from the inside out and outside in (of the cult) though perhaps a being a little clearer about their purpose (other than preparing for the ‘new age’) would have offered a little more sense of foreboding.

That didn’t matter though as it’s about the hold over the minds of the members that’s the point of the group’s leaders and its pervasive impact on those they control. As an aside – though of interest – reference to ‘yoga mothers’, small town dwellers (etc) remind us that other cliques exist out there. All with their own rules and personas.

In the Clearing by JP Pomare will be published in Australia by Hachette and available from 31 December 2019.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes. 


Comments are closed.