REVIEW: Bluebottle by Belinda Castles

In brief: The Bright children have vivid memories of a Boxing Day long ago. When the present brings them to the house of their childhood, the emotions come to light…

The good: Tense, moody – edge of your seat kind of stuff.

The not-so-good: Having to wait until the very end to discover what really happened.

Why I chose it: Thank you to Allen & Unwin for the copy.

Year: 2018

Pages: 249

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Setting: New South Wales, Australia

Rating: 8 out of 10

I seem to have a thing for picking out hot summer stories in the middle of winter. Bluebottle is a tense mystery crackling with domestic dramas, which are illuminated further by the sultry summer weather it takes place in. It’s a mystery that is as gripping as it is uncomfortable as every character adds their version of what happened in the Bright family that Boxing Day years ago.

The novel moves between Christmas and Boxing Days in that past year to the present. The Bright children (a lovely sunny name for a family full of secrets) tell their story from the past and then we catch up with them in the current day. Jack is anxious about his father Charlie, who is an odd character. Full of fancy ideas that seem manic at times, Jack never knows when Charlie’s mood is about to change for the better or worse. It keeps him in a heightened state, always being on the lookout. In the present day, Jack is coping with what could be/might not be the breakdown of his marriage. Lou was a teenager at the time, keen on swimming and meeting up with the boys near their new house on the cliff. Lou is at the age of rebellion, she is sick of Charlie and his moods and ready to go out on her own. Fast forward to the current and she is a successful real estate agent with a secret drinking problem (despite looking like she has it all to her siblings). Phoebe was only a child at the time of the fateful events, but she could sense the moods and was ever-ready to demand attention, perhaps to try to shy away from showdowns. Now she’s more of a drifter and photographer, quieter but with a respect for Charlie that the others don’t have.

As the story progresses, the reader finds out there may be more to Charlie’s ideas and whims. A girl, Monica, who lived across the road from their old house has been missing for some time. Lou thinks she has found some evidence. Jack feels like Charlie took an extra interest in Monica. As Boxing Day continues, everyone becomes more suspicious and Charlie’s ideas grow even grander. The tension in the Bright family house is at its peak. What happens next?

Bluebottle is very readable as the tension just grows and grows. As the Bright family comes to the conclusion that they didn’t want to make, I felt uncomfortable but could not stop reading. I’d suspected for a while, but…surely not? Belinda Castles really knows how to write a thrilling story based on suspicious actions and the thoughts of others. The hot, humid weather the characters experience served to fuel a further unsettling feeling that allowed more doubt to creep into my mind. This novel is so cleverly woven together with seeds of doubt. The plotting still amazes me. The Bright children as adults are also just flawed enough for me as a reader to doubt their stories. Overall, Bluebottle is a disconcerting novel that builds the suspicion to breaking point before letting the truth boil over.

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