Goodwood by Holly Throsby

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.