Peggy Frew

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Peggy Frew

Shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award 2020

‘There was a house on a hill in the city and it was full of us, our family, but then it began to empty. We fell out. We made a mess. We draped ourselves in blame and disappointment and lurched around, bumping into each other. Some of us wailed and shouted; some of us barely made a sound. None of us was listening, or paying attention. And in the middle of it all you, very quietly, were gone.’

Helen and John are too preoccupied with making a mess of their marriage to notice the quiet ways in which their daughters are suffering. Junie grows up brittle and defensive, Anna difficult and rebellious.

When fifteen-year-old Anna fails to come home one night, her mother’s not too worried; Anna’s taken off before but always returned. Helen waits three days to report her disappearance.

But this time Anna doesn’t come back …

A spellbinding novel in the tradition of Helen Garner, Charlotte Wood and Georgia Blain, Islands is a riveting and brilliant portrait of a family in crisis by the breathtakingly talented author of House of Sticks and Hope Farm.


After the success of her 2015 Stella Prize and Miles Franklin Award shortlisted and Barbara Jefferis Award-winning work, Hope Farm, Peggy Frew returns with her third novel, Islands. Frew succeeds in creating an uncomfortable and disorienting narrative. Each chapter is about a different character, with plot points jumping back and forth through connected time frames. These vignettes converge to create a portrait of a family in crisis.

It’s the mid 1980s, with young sisters Junie and Anna sitting in the car on the way to Nan’s house, neither of them wanting to sit in the front seat with John, their father, just in case he cries. Jump back to 1969 and John is with Helen, the girls’ mother, in her room. She rummages through strewn clothing looking for something to wear to a film on their date night. It’s not until they get into the city that they realise that Helen is wearing mismatched white shoes that she flicks off and throws in the bin. Forward to the mid1980s and Ryan, a fellow student, develops a fascination with Junie and Anna. While running past their house he looks up at the lit up second-storey windows and imagines that they might be the girls’ bedrooms, but instead of frills and teddy bears, he pictures them standing in each room surrounded by nothing. Then, in 2011, Junie is a mother and in bed with the daughter she dreams is her missing sister Anna, who disappeared in 1995. We jump to 1995 and Anna has been missing for a month. On a night out Junie thinks she sees Anna, but Junie is drunk and the moment passes.

Islands is a beautiful study of sorrow that describes the disintegration of a family due to a marriage break-up, childhood neglect and the ongoing trauma of a disappearance.

Jason Austin is a book buyer at Readings Carlton.

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