Reviewed by Patricia Simms-Reeve
Deeply unsettling in its powerful themes, with opening pages that relate brutish male behaviour and allude to unspeakable trauma, The Furies is not an easy read.
Cynthia, a sixteen-year-old girl, is living alone when not long ago, she had a father and mother and a little sister, Mallory, forming her family unit. The house, once her home, is in the drought-stricken lands beyond Toowoomba, in Queensland.
Her father, driven to despair by unbroken drought and the starving cattle, compounded by his wife’s severe mental instability, has left and his whereabouts are unknown. Her mother has been arrested for murder and lives in a psychiatric facility. The victim of her crime is little Mallory, who has suffered an horrific death preceded by three unhappy years.
These cruel circumstances have shattered the young girl, but her life takes a gruesome twist. Compelled to find work, she takes a job in the town abattoir, as there is no other choice in this small country town. The vanished father used to work there, so she is not a complete novice in the savage treatment of the animals. The strength required means the workers are mostly male, and this adds a fresh element of horror to her plight.
Cynthia is virtually raped by a group of the men. She neither protests nor consents, but her thoughts and seeming passive acceptance are intensely disturbing. Her mother’s reputation has blighted hers and the men behave in despicably bestial ways.
Although the subject matter is so confronting, The Furies is a book that grips a reader – not because of the narrative as much as the importance of its central themes.
The continual crying and screaming of a baby/ toddler can trigger mental illness which with Cynthia’s mother developed into paranoid schizophrenia. No treatment resulted in her locking herself in her room to prevent disaster … Her husband, unable to cope with this and the drought ravaged farm, deals with his unbearable situation by walking away.
Cynthia, deprived of her entire family in shocking ways, is submitted to further horror in her abuse by fellow workers.
A more conventional novel might evolve to a stage where the main character, a victim of ‘outrageous fortune’, would revolt in violent and dramatic ways, to salve the pain of her suffering.
Mandy Beaumont’s brilliant creation, Cynthia, despite having multiple opportunities to wreak revenge on the men who use her shamelessly, internalises her ‘Revolution’. She makes her position very clear, without resorting to any violence. Her mantra to ‘be ready. We are coming’ heralds a determination to no longer accept behaviour that disrespects or abuses women.
Although permanently scarred by her life experience, she finds the strength to form her powerful resolve.
The Furies is the first novel for Mandy Beaumont, who teaches Creative Writing at Griffith University. In this year when young women are demonstrating their need for change in societal attitudes to women, this book cannot be ignored. Reference to the Sydney Olympics dates the novel to the turn of the century, but in current Australia, much yet needs to improve, as recent events demonstrate.
It highlights too, the woeful lack of support for people with mental illness and this possibly leading to horrendous outcomes.
The perennial problem of lack of adequate facilities in rural areas plays its part in the mounting pressures experienced, too.
The furies in Roman mythology were the daughters of Uranus and Gaia. They were known for vengeance. Mandy Beaumont’s choice of title suggests that the future holds a threat. Her book gives a character submitted to egregious reasons to exact revenge, but hers takes the form of steadfast resistance, a big step forward.
The writing is excellent, the impact makes it unforgettable and its relevance is undeniable. A very fine novel, indeed.
by Mandy Beaumont
ISBN 978 073364 307 1