Reviewed by Wendy Lipke
Inside the novel Lowbridge, by Australian writer Lucy Campbell, I found a four-page A4 copy of a Mounthaven Chronicle which features articles about missing local schoolgirl Tess Dawes. Dated Wednesday February 11, 1987, it also included the report on an interview with the author of this book, Lucy Campbell. As part of this interview, she was asked to describe her book in one sentence, to which she replied, ‘Lowbridge is the story of a decade long mystery, set over two different timeframes, that explores the relationship between girls and women in a small town, and the issues that divide them’.
In the Acknowledgements section of the book, the author says that the story was triggered by a picture on a milk carton for the Canberra Milk National Missing Persons campaign of 2022 and a slim book she found in her bookcase.
The person missing in Lowbridge in 1987 is seventeen-year-old High School student, Tess Dawes who everyone seems to like. In a town where everybody knows everyone, it is a puzzle that somebody can just disappear. The story presented in the book is a dual-time tale about the time Tess disappeared and then thirty years later when Katherine Ashworth and her husband, Jamie, return to where Jamie grew up, in the hope of recovery after the death of their teenage daughter, Maggie.
Katherine is trying to overcome the darkness which has enveloped her since her loss. Eventually she weans herself off the pills and booze and forces herself to leave the house. With her many visits to the Historical Society, where she feels safe, she gradually begins to heal. But relations between her and Jamie do not improve especially when Katherine learns that he knew Tess from his school days, and has chosen to keep this information to himself.
Katherine becomes engrossed in the history of Lowbridge and is determined to discover what happened to Tess, but her actions upset several people in town who do not appear to want the past revealed. As she delves deeper, Katherine discovers that Tess was not the only girl to go missing at that time, yet no-one seems too concerned about this other disappearance.
This is an interesting, well told story which highlights the teenage years in a small country town; friendships and divisions based on where people live; and the power which certain people in town wield for their own satisfaction. There are incidences of abuse which go un-reported and there is a fear of embracing new ideas. At the time of the disappearance of the schoolgirl there was division in the town over the proposal for a Women’s Centre including a protest march which many believed impeded the search for the teenager.
As a first novel, this is a well-crafted work. Lucy Campbell had previously worked as a writer and sub-editor across magazines, newspapers, and non-fiction books.
Lowbridge is a heart-wrenching mystery about the girls who are lost, the ones who are mourned and those who are forgotten. It also highlights the effects these events have on others and how bringing closure can allow family members to accept and move on with their lives.
by Lucy Campbell
ISBN:978 176115 206 1