Tiger lurks in the shadows in realms of Tassie gothic
Though the thylacine is not immediately mentioned in this taut new novel from Krissy Kneen, its presence is palpable from the first page. When the remains of a disembowelled possum are discovered in Winter Cave in southern Tasmania, this myth-like creature fills the novel’s silences, assuming a symbolic power that links to humanity’s destructive potential.
Winter Cave is well known to Jessica, who has studied glow worms there for her PhD on the subject of their life cycle. Much like Jessica, glow worms are fragile but resilient creatures. Jessica lives in the Tasmanian town of Southport with her partner, Matthew, and though she professes to love him, something about their interactions sounds false. While joking about her being a “doctor” now, Matthew tells Jessica “You’re so smart, baby” and early on the two have a fight in which Jessica’s laptop, containing her research, may have been damaged.
But when Matthew disappears, Jessica, an outsider in the close-knit community, becomes isolated and distraught by the sudden loss. The locals aren’t receptive to strangers: “People who drank any kind of Macchiato did not belong around here.” Matthew’s family offers the unflattering suggestion he most likely eloped with another woman, though Jessica is perplexed by this suggestion. Matthew’s family “… seemed to belong here. Their great-great-grandparents had joined the killing lines, hunting out the real locals, and killing everyone in their path.”
Jessica admits that Matthew has a temper and remembers him flinging a dinner plate at a w wall: “no real rage in him, just a cold, calculated heft and throw”. J Jessica, who describes herself as “fiercely unpretty”, also seems somewhat naive, though Kneen suggests that her early life in a controlling religious sect is responsible for her willingness to overlook Matthew’s flaws, along w with her desire for familiarity in a place where she is unknown: “All she had to do when she was out in public was hold on to Matthew’s arm and let him talk.” If there is a flaw here, it’s that Jessica’s backstory doesn’t fully mesh with the current action.
Yet there’s also something feisty about Jessica: a keen fisher and hunter, she’s also an expert markswoman. Moreover, she’s intelligent