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Holly Throsby

It wasn’t just one person who went missing, it was two people. Two very different people. They were there, and then they were gone, as if through a crack in the sky. After that, in a small town like Goodwood, where we had what Nan called ‘a high density of acquaintanceship’, everything stopped. Or at least it felt that way. The normal feeling of things stopped.

Goodwood is a small town where everyone knows everything about everyone. It’s a place where it’s impossible to keep a secret.

In 1992, when Jean Brown is seventeen, a terrible thing happens. Two terrible things. Rosie White, the coolest girl in town, vanishes overnight. One week later, Goodwood’s most popular resident, Bart McDonald, sets off on a fishing trip and never comes home.

People die in Goodwood, of course, but never like this. They don’t just disappear.

As the intensity of speculation about the fates of Rosie and Bart heightens, Jean, who is keeping secrets of her own, and the rest of Goodwood are left reeling.

Rich in character and complexity, its humour both droll and tender, Goodwood is a compelling ride into a small community, torn apart by dark rumours and mystery.


Goodwood is a quintessential NSW country town – sandwiched between a river and a mountain, known for its timber and its fishing – the sort of town where not much happens, everyone knows everyone else’s business, and nobody much bothers with locking their doors. That is until 18-year-old Rosie White disappears without a trace, followed a week later by Bart McDonald, the town’s beloved local butcher. The town is turned on its head – gossip and speculation turn into mistrust and suspicion as secrets are revealed, and the townspeople’s lives intersect in unforeseen and unforced ways. Against all this is the coming-of-age of narrator Jean Brown, whose interest in the case mirrors that of the whole town – it upends everything she thinks she knows about the world, and is all she can think about – except for an enigmatic new girl in town.

Best known and highly regarded as as a singer–songwriter, Holly Throsby’s debut novel is lyrical without being abstruse, colloquial without being contrived. Her characters, while familiar, are nuanced and authentic, and her depiction of small-town life is bang-on in both its endearing and suffocating ways.

At multiple points while reading Goodwood I was convinced that Holly Throsby had based the titular town on the one I grew up in, which has had its own share of tragedy in recent years – the close-knit cast of characters, the power of gossip as currency, even small details like the local-humour stubby coolers everyone seems to own, all ring remarkably true. Small towns react to tragedy differently from big cities – the landscape seems changed, the all-pervasive sense of ‘local mood’ shifts noticeably.

Reminiscent of Jasper Jones or Emily Maguire’s An Isolated Incident, Goodwood approaches small-town violence through a softer lens, but the undercurrents and ramifications are no less chilling. As in Maguire’s novel, there may be answers in the end, but answers are often not enough.

Alan Vaarwerk is the editorial assistant for Readings Monthly.

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