Goodwood, Australian author Holly Throsby’s first novel, is set in the type of small town I recognise. It’s a place where everyone knows everyone else and most of each other’s business. Neighbours generally watch out for each other but occasionally they ignore the plight of those who need protection. On the whole, Goodwood is a good place to live.
The story is narrated by 17-year old Jean who in 1992 was closely connected with most of the Goodwood community, including her fellow students, young adults, the town’s business people, her grandparent’s friends and the local policeman, Mack, who was also Jean’s cousin.
Jean knew 18-year old Rosie White, who disappeared from her bedroom in the middle of the night and she also knew Bart McDonald, the town’s charismatic and generous butcher, who went missing while fishing at the lake just a week after Rosie vanished.
Rosie and Bart’s disappearances were a mystery to everyone in Goodwood. In a town where no one ever locked their doors, Jean’s mother started locking Jean’s bedroom window at night. Mack, with the help of detectives from the next town over investigated Rosie’s disappearance but clues to her whereabouts were hard to find. The lake was searched after Bart’s boat was found floating alone, but his body wasn’t found either. Local gossips wondered if Rosie and Bart’s disappearances were connected.
Jean knew secrets about Rosie and Bart along with secrets she knew about other people, but initially didn’t think that what she knew was important enough to tell Mack. In many ways Goodwood is a coming of age story as Jean contends with growing up. Her best friend seems the most likely of their classmates to become a teenage mother as she enjoys her first sexual experiences with a boy from their class, while another boy is keen on Jean. As a foursome, Jean, her best friend and the two boys cruised around town, got drunk and generally messed around, as their families and community watched from a distance.
I enjoyed how small-town Australian this book felt. I felt comfortable in Goodwood and recognised the people in the Bowlo, locals at the pub, neighbours down the street and friends and family at Nan’s house. Sadly, I also knew who belted their wife and children and that no one would do anything, because that would be interfering in someone else’s business. I knew who had a gambling problem, and most importantly, who to avoid because they were creepy.
While it didn’t spoil the book in any way for me, I guessed how things would turn out for the missing characters long before the story disclosed the answers, although there were still a few surprises. I felt satisfied that some of the characters got was coming to them and frustrated with others who wouldn’t help themselves, which is a bit like in real life, really. The ending for Jean and a new friend left me feeling intrigued with what Jean’s future might hold.
I did feel as if Goodwood could have done with a prune. Some sections dragged and other parts had nothing to do with the story. There were also too many characters to keep a track of, many of whom didn’t need to be in the story.
However, on the whole I enjoyed Goodwood, and liked the characters, the place and the time the story was set. Holly Throsby, who is also a songwriter and musician, has since published another novel, Cedar Valley, which I expect to read and enjoy in future.