A hypnotic novella from the Australian author of The Hunter (2001).
A woman arrives at the gate of a large French estate. She has a suitcase, a broken arm and two children. A stone wall and an electronic security system separate the woman, the boy and the girl from the château inside. Undeterred, the woman leads her children to a door half-hidden by vines. She tears away the clinging leaves to find a lock and tries an old key, but the door doesn’t move until the boy forces it open, bruising and bloodying himself in the process. They go through the door. It is clear from the start that this is a story in which bad things happen. It is clear, in fact, that bad things already have happened, that they are always happening, and that they will continue to happen. Leigh makes deft use of the paraphernalia of Gothic literature, but she wields these blunt tools with magnificent restraint. She infuses her tale of violence, secrets and death with a delicate emotional realism, and the result is spellbinding. The family appears to be cursed, and the adults seem to accept that they must relive and repeat their various tragedies. The children, however, fail to act according to script. They are unpredictable—as children are—and their volatile verisimilitude injects the possibility of hope into this narrative of doom. It is uncertain, though, whether this means that calamity will be averted or, rather, that the final disaster will be even more horrifying: Leigh sustains the tension between life and death until the very end. It’s difficult to imagine a reader who will not be electrified by this haunting, masterfully told story. Indeed, it’s difficult to imagine a reader who will not be changed by it.
Brilliant, possibly perfect.