Title: The Yellow House
Author: Emily O’Grady
Genre: Literary Fiction, Crime, Mystery
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 24th April 2018
Synopsis: The winner of the prestigious literary award that has launched over a hundred authors – the Australian/Vogel’s Literary award
Winner of the 2018 The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award
Even before I knew anything about Granddad Les, Wally and me sometimes dared each other to see how close to the knackery we could get. It was way out in the bottom paddock, and Dad had banned us from going further than the dam. Wally said it was because the whole paddock was haunted. He said he could see ghosts wisping in the grass like sheets blown from the washing line. But even then I knew for sure that was a lie.
Ten-year-old Cub lives with her parents, older brother Cassie, and twin brother Wally on a lonely property bordering an abandoned cattle farm and knackery. Their lives are shadowed by the infamous actions of her Granddad Les in his yellow weatherboard house, just over the fence.
Although Les died twelve years ago, his notoriety has grown in Cub’s lifetime and the local community have ostracised the whole family.
When Cub’s estranged aunt Helena and cousin Tilly move next door into the yellow house, the secrets the family want to keep buried begin to bubble to the surface. And having been kept in the dark about her grandfather’s crimes, Cub is now forced to come to terms with her family’s murky history.
The Yellow House is a powerful novel about loyalty and betrayal; about the legacies of violence and the possibilities of redemption.
The Yellow House is Cub’s story about her family, told from the point of view of ten-year-old Cub. Living in semi-rural Queensland, she is the granddaughter of an infamous serial killer -Grandad Les – who died shortly before she, and her twin brother, Wally, were born. She knows that there are secrets in her family – though she doesn’t know exactly what at first, though the rest of her family do. Her mother has always kept her hair short like Wally’s – which frustrates Cub. But one day a cousin and aunt – Tilly and Helena- move into the yellow house where Grandad Les lived, and things start to change. The town they live in has always whispered about Cub and her family, and seen them as feral – which, in some ways they are – yet are they feral because that is how people see them, and because of the legacy of Les? Or, are they simply feral and their genetic link to Les simply gives people a reason to justify their hate?
As Helena and Tilly move in, Cassie – Cub’s older brother – begins to change in his demeanour and makes a new friend – Ian – whose presence is immediately disconcerting to Cub and sets the entire family on edge and sends them hurtling towards a precipice that begins to crumble as tragedy begins to touch their lives again.
Whilst Cub is a great little spy and seems to catch onto things easily and find things out. having the story – what she has been told, what she sees and what she finds out throughout the novel – is all filtered through her understanding as a child. Her perception of some things seems quite simplistic -thinking her Mum doesn’t like her, wanting to know if she’s anyone’s favourite. and wanting to be friends with Tilly and doing what she can to try and get along with her cousin.
Throughout the novel, there is always the feeling that something bad is going to happen, like watching the cliffhanger of a television crime drama and knowing that the dread you feel will come to pass, but hoping it won’t, and hoping things will change at the last minute. When certain events happen, when some characters enter the story, there is always the feeling of knowing that either something will happen to that person, or that another person is bad news – Ian was one such character that filled me with dread, and fear, knowing there is something ominous about his presence but not quite being able to put your finger on it.
What I liked was the way Emily balanced the not so normal aspects of the lives of Cub’s family – the way Cassie acted, her mum, whom I didn’t like at all and found myself wishing she cared a bit more about Cub than she actually did – with the normal, everyday actions of going to school, coming home and doing homework, meals and all the rest of the things families usually do. As Cub learns about and comes to terms with the murky family of her history, she is faced with tough decisions and knowledge that she must find a way to deal with.
Emily O’Grady’s novel is an intriguing look at human nature and how assumptions about family and who you are related to can colour what people think of you – and what happens when these secrets come out – and how far some people are willing to go to hurt people and cover it up.