The Silence by Susan Allott

‘How can someone be missing for thirty years and no one notice?’

1997, Hackney, UK.  Isla Green receives a ‘phone call from her father Joe in Sydney.  He’s under suspicion of murder. Thirty years earlier, the Green’s next-door neighbour Mandy Mallory disappeared, and Joe is allegedly the last person who saw her alive.  Mandy’s family are looking for her: her father has died, and there’s an estate to finalise.

Joe is upset. Isla’s mother, Louisa, has not taken the news well.  Isla returns to Australia, for a couple of weeks to try to help.

What happened to Mandy?

1967, Sydney.  Joe, Louisa and Isla Green lived next door to Steve and Mandy Mallory.  The Greens were emigrants from the UK, and Louisa was not happy.  Steve Mallory was often away for work, and Mandy used to look after Isla sometimes.

Two families, each with secrets. Isla’s return to Sydney in 1997 enables her to run, for a while, from her own reality.

The story moves between 1967 and 1997. Between the tensions within and between families, between secrets kept which have shaped and corroded lives, between memories and escapes.

This is a bleak story.  As we move towards the end, through the circumstances leading to Mandy’s disappearance, we move through some painful issues including both domestic violence and the removal of Aboriginal children from their families.  This is not a story to enjoy: ‘The Silence’ is a reminder of an unsettled and violent past which is a current reality for many.  And the future?  Talking about issues doesn’t stop them existing.  And, unfortunately, cycles are often repeated. Too many of us who read this book will (unfortunately) recognise fact in the fiction.

Bleak, but worth reading.

‘Nobody looked for her … not for thirty years.’

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and HarperCollins Australia for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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