Friday, 13th December - Aussie Authors Advent - The Van Apfel Girls are Gone by Felicity McLean

Updated: Dec 21, 2019


How is it that Friday the 13th became established in the Western psyche as a day that was unlucky? Maybe a little bit spooky or weird? A day edged with dread. This novel well and truly got its claws into me.


The prologue starts:


'The ghost turned dup in time for breakfast, summoned by the death rattle of Cornflakes in their box.'


Almost comical. We're almost smiling as we read, drawn into the story without demur, until we realise that the narrator is haunted by her past. The mood in the novel changes, the tension is tightened, and a tingle of dread seeps in. One minute, as the reader, you feel embraced, laughing at the tender humour and endearing friendships in the story, but the next you're filled with a sense of horror and dread. The language and observations are dazzling, for example:


'We lost all three girls that summer. Let them slip away like the words of some half-remembered song and when one came back, she wasn't the one we were trying to recall to begin with.'


And some of the matter of fact summations that trace a chilling finger down your spine:


'They had six femurs, ninety-nine vertebrae, three skulls and thirty fingernails. Six kneecaps, forty-eight carpal bones, and more than three million strands of blonde hair, all tinged alien-green by the chlorine in their pool which, up until the day they went missing, we’d swum in almost every single day that summer.

And yet all of these things vanished—just evaporated in the heat ...'


Felicity McLean has done a brilliant job of summoning up a world with all the dread and anticipation of a modern-day 'Picnic at Hanging Rock'. It has a really nostalgic feel to it, as if at times we're observing the 1990s story through a sepia lens. The Van Apfel Giles are Gone has been compared more than once to Jefferey Eugenides' 'The Virgin Suicides', but it has a markedly Australian feel. Hot, uncomfortable, and full of danger.


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