Book review: The Curlew’s Eye by Karen Manton

Thursday, September 16, 2021 Permalink

I’ve seen The Curlew’s Eye by Karen Manton billed as a crime thriller or a gothic mystery. In reality it’s less about a mystery to be solved or any present threat, and more about secrets and pasts that need to be faced up to.

Manton offers a strong and pervasive sense of place here. Lovers of flora, fauna and of nature in general will certainly adore her prose as she so richly describes life in outback Australia.

Book review: The Curlew’s Eye by Karen MantonThe Curlew's Eye
by Karen Manton
Published by Allen & Unwin AU
on 14/09/2021
Source: Allen & Unwin
Genres: General Fiction, Literary Fiction
ISBN: 9781760879518
Pages: 352

Greta's partner Joel grew up with five brothers and a sister in a feisty household on an isolated NT property. But he doesn't talk about those days-not the deaths of his sister and mother, nor the origin of the scars that snake around his body.

Now, many years later, he returns with Greta and their three young boys to prepare the place for sale. The boys are quick to settle in, and Joel seems preoccupied with work, but Greta has a growing sense of unease, struggling in the build-up's oppressive heat and living in the shadow of the old, burned-out family home. She knows she's a stranger in this uncanny place, with its eerie and alluring landscape, hostile neighbour, and a toxic dam whose clear waters belie its poison. And then there's the mysterious girl living rough whom Greta tries to befriend.

Determined to make sense of it all, Greta is drawn into Joel's unspoken past and confronted by her own. Before long the curlew's haunting cry will call her to face the secrets she and Joel can no longer outrun.

I’m a little torn about this book. On one hand I could recognise the beauty in Manton’s writing….

Among the silhouettes of cycads and sand palms and eucalypts, the shadows of the boulders loomed. They leaned in one to the other, a communion of stone. They knew who she was and watched her pass. But she did not know them. They were the stone strangers. Her foreign breath wavered. Loose rocks rattled under the wheels, the grasses swish-swished at the car door. p 5

But it overwhelmed me in many ways, becoming thick or heavy with detail. (For me) the story was stifled by the weight of the prose… despite its eloquence.

She walked to the edge of the hill. On her right four ghost gums stood quiet. Below her was a rocky amphitheatre where cycads waited like actors cast under a spell. Their trunks were black, their hair a spill of green fronds. She stepped down among them. From there the land fell steeply to an outcrop of boulders. They were gentle shadows obscuring the world below. She could hear the creek running through the hidden valley. Above it wisps of mist trailed where cool and warm air mingled. On the other side of the valley hills rose in shadow curves lined with trees. There was a dim light between their trunks. They stood sightly apart, like people. Everything ended with the giant arm of an escarpment. Pale blue light spread up in an arc above it, pushing back the night.

The place she’d come from felt so far off it mightn’t exist, with its pale dune grasses, the green-purple melt of waves, the wind’s icy sting. pp 12-13

I should note however, I am not a visual person. I love stylistic and beautiful storytelling (am thinking Anita Brookner, Favel Parrett and Sophie Laguna for example) but am left a little untouched by descriptions of ‘things’. I’m incapable – for example – of picturing or visualising people or scenery. Others however may find the poetic descriptions of this story’s setting atmospheric and beguiling. Similarly I’m not a lover of nature and it took me a while to wonder who on earth was flying all of these kites in the middle of nowhere…. #spoileralert, they’re apparently birds. 🙄

It meant for me this was very much about the narrative itself. And I was a little underwhelmed by the past revelations and secrets Joel and Greta are hiding from each other and (ultimately) themselves. Having said that, Manton patiently ekes out Joel’s family secrets and the not-entirely-metaphorical ghosts greeting Greta from her past.

I could certainly see the beauty in this book, in its writing and haunting secrets and I’m sure it will appeal to many who appreciate the slower pace and atmospheric setting.

The Curlew’s Eye by Karen Manton was published in Australia by Allen & Unwin and is now available.

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


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