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.
This review first appeared in the Historical Novels Review's May issue and is based on my own copy of the book. Currawong Manor was published by Macmillan Australia in 2014 in trade paperback (Au$29.99) and as an ebook ($11.99 - update 5/14, as the price just dropped). This review is my 2nd entry for the 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge.
And for readers unfamiliar with what a currawong is, they're birds native to Australasia, and their presence plays a role in the story.