Reviewed by Wendy Lipke
I enjoyed reading Averil Kenny’s first novel, Those Hamilton Sisters, but I think I enjoyed The Girls of Lake Evelyn even more. While her first novel was more about exclusion where the three girls were shunned by the town, her second was about how a newcomer to an area was readily included when she was ready. Once again Kenny has positioned her story in North Queensland. This latest one is set on the Atherton Tableland, featuring one of the volcanic crater lakes of the area.
The character, around whom the story revolves, is Vivienne George, a Sydney socialite who all her life had been ‘reprimanded against scene-making, impropriety and social downfall’ (5) by her domineering mother. On the night before her marriage to a man she did not love, Vivienne puts half a continent and a guarded mountain pass between herself, and the life mapped out for her by her mother. To do this she is helped by her resourceful uncle.
What follows is her role in breaking a curse which has hung over the small town of Barrington Downs near Lake Evelyn. On her arrival at a lodge in the rainforest she does not realise the connection that exists between her and the legend that the towns folk had all played a part in propagating after a disappearance and several drownings in the lake fourteen years ago.
I found the characters in this story to be thoroughly believable and diverse, from the short energetic convivial Josie to the shy reserved Laura, the thoughtful, caring Owen, Josie’s brother, and those hiding sinister motives. The varying personalities within the storyline helped generate a tension which kept the reader’s focus. Josie’s loud and loving family contrasted greatly with Vivienne’s earlier life with a single self-absorbed society mother. It was interesting to see how Josie, Vivienne and the intimidated Laura developed a strong sisterhood which would allow Vivienne and Laura to burst free of their tight bud existence and unfurl to bloom into their full potential and allow Josie to follow her life’s dream.
Manipulation plays a big part in this novel. As well as the situation with Vivienne’s mother, there is the feisty octogenarian, Josie’s Grandy Beryl, ‘the unsinkable matriarch of Barrington’ (380) who seemed to reign over the whole town and its doings. She is really the one behind Josie’s plan to write a play and have her theatre group perform what happened all those years ago, in an attempt to break the town curse. There is sexual manipulation to various degrees which comes to light as the story progresses and also the curse of the lake which colours the thoughts and actions of the community.
Yet there is also a much lighter side to this tale, with the three girls finding fulfillment and love. There is the magic of the theatre production, its location and its revelations leaving the audience enraptured, disbelieving and relieved that the curse is at last broken. Now was the time for second chances. The author’s delivery of her story affected the emotions of the reader with its various ups and downs and unexpected revelations. More surprises were still to come.
The narrative also contained beautiful descriptions of the natural environment. I felt I was there, with Vivienne as she saw for the first time the mating dance of the bird of paradise, a ‘Phantom of the Opera, shrunk to doll-sized’ (280). I felt her fear when she first experienced the ‘strident night calls and understorey scurries; the distant lumbering passage of a nocturnal mammal (23) and the turning of the doorknob when she was alone in the lodge surrounded by the black of the rainforest.
Averil Kenny can touch the emotions of the reader with her words. She also loves to throw in some vocabulary which the average reader may not have experienced before. It may have been her way of writing, but I believe there are a few editing inconsistencies which detract from an otherwise beautiful, polished story. (See pages 71, 362, 375)
I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the main characters in this book and seeing them develop as time went by. I liked reading about this fictitious little north Queensland town and its full cast of characters. I look forward to reading more work by this Australian author.
The Girls of Lake Evelyn
by Averil Kenny