Book review: The Beautiful Words by Vanessa McCausland

Saturday, December 11, 2021 Permalink

The Beautiful Words is the third book I’ve read by Australian author Vanessa McCausland and probably my favourite to date.

All three books consider complex issues and draw on themes around family and friendships, around hopes and aspirations as well as discontentment and regret.

Book review: The Beautiful Words by Vanessa McCauslandThe Beautiful Words
by Vanessa McCausland
Published by HarperCollins
on 01/12/2021
Source: NetGalley
Genres: General Fiction, Psychological Thriller
ISBN: 1460713184
Pages: 368

Sylvie is a lover of words and a collector of stories, only she has lost her own. She has no words for that night at the lighthouse when their lives changed forever. What happened to cleave her apart from her best friend and soulmate, Kase?

Sylvie yearns to rekindle their deep connection, so when Kase invites her to the wild Tasmanian coast to celebrate her 40th birthday, she accepts - despite the ghosts she must face.

As Sylvie struggles to find her feet among old friends, she bonds with local taxi boat driver Holden. But he is hiding from the world, too.

Through an inscription in an old book, Sylvie and Kase discover their mothers have a history, hidden from their daughters. As they unpick what took place before they were born, they're forced to face the rift in their own friendship, and the question of whether it's ever okay to keep a secret to protect the person you love.

This book unfolds in three timeframes though much of the focus is on Sylvie and Kase – in the past and present. We learn their childhood friendship was that of kindred spirits. As soul friends…

And this theme of friendships – their strength and fragility – is also reflected in a third timeline. One long before Sylvie and Kase were born.

But sometimes it is friendship that is our true life calling, our true soul connection. You two have that soul connection, I see it plain as the nose on my face. These are eternal and rare and mystical and as such they burn the brightest. Most of our relationships, even very loving ones are revealed to be only temporary. Soul connections are forever. p 218

Ultimately this story however is about secrets and lies. We’re given snippets of the events of 1996 (in the lead-up to and aftermath of) the tragedy that changed Sylvie and Kase’s lives forever. Of course, at the heart of this story is how it impacted on their lives.

Sylvie knows she’s living a ‘small’ life and though it’s by choice, there’s still a sense of resentment towards her old friends who’ve moved on. Perhaps there’s a sense of irony in the way her lost memories are protecting her, but at the same time stopping her from truly living life.

The present here is playing out against a backdrop of grief. Although Kase’s brother died over two decades earlier that sense of loss is very strong. And we’re introduced to Holden who lost his own teenage daughter and is struggling to endure life, after…

Although McCausland offers us a great cast of characters and – ultimately a number of twists to the secrets being kept – the strength for me here is in her writing.

We’re told that Sylvie loves words and she jots down words that she wants to remember or hold onto – particularly given the memory issues she has. McCausland intersperses the book with definitions – both common words or those that relate to the plot in some way.

Lilo (n.) – a friendship that can lie dormant for years only to pick right back up instantly, as if no time had passed since you last saw each other. p 55

The Beautiful Words by Vanessa McCausland was published in Australia by Harper Collins and is now available.

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


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