Currawong Manor

Written by Josephine Pennicott
Review by Sarah Johnson

With her previous novel, Poet’s Cottage, Josephine Pennicott proved that edgy bohemian glamour and gothic creepiness made a great combination. Here she continues these themes but ups her game further with her riveting dual-period novel, set in Australia’s Blue Mountains in 2000 and 1945, about dreadful family secrets, the interpretations of creative works, and the lasting impact of war on artists and their art.

The modern protagonist, photographer Elizabeth Thorrington, jumps at the chance to return to Currawong Manor, her grandparents’ remote estate, following a career scandal. In the course of preparing a coffee-table book about her grandfather, eccentric painter Rupert Partridge, and his three beautiful life-models called the “Flowers,” she hopes to learn about her family history. A wild, haunted place, with its fairytale garden, high towers, and mythological sculptures wreathed in mist, Currawong was once the scene for a trio of tragedies. “The locals have always called it the Ruins,” Elizabeth tells a friend, “not just because it’s fallen into ruins, but because it ruins lives.” Then there are the mysterious “dollmaker” and her daughter, who were allowed to remain on the property – why?

The writing is sharp throughout, with striking images of the house both in the modern segments and in its prime. The most memorable creation is Ginger Lawson, whose attitude is as fiery as her hair. A former “Flower” with lots of sex appeal even in her 70s, Ginger returns to Currawong to be depicted anew in Elizabeth’s book. Her recollections about Rupert drive the plot along

There’s a lot of story packed into the nearly 400 pages, all perfectly paced, with secrets teased out bit by bit until the shocking denouement – which is worth staying up late to discover. Fans of Kate Morton should devour it, but Pennicott has a distinctive style all her own.