Tiger lurks in the shad­ows in realms of Tassie gothic

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

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

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