The Beautiful Words (Vanessa McCausland, HarperCollins)
Sylvie is a lover of words who lives a quiet and solitary life after an accident as a teenager robbed her of her memories. When her best friend from that time, Kase, invites her away to the Tasmanian coast to celebrate her 40th birthday, Sylvie surprises herself by accepting. Kase and her friends are all successful, which has brought them power and cachet, and Sylvie begins to feel the gap between her teenage potential and current self. Kase and her friends enjoy the luxurious surroundings and delicious food but, as Sylvie observes throughout the weekend, their money has not bought them happiness or peace. The Beautiful Words is a story of romance, trauma, powerful friendships, secrets across generations and the treacherous nature of memory. Author Vanessa McCausland brings the Tasmanian wilderness to life with expressive and vivid descriptions: the island is wild, evocative and responsive to Sylvie’s emotions. The big reveal unfolds over the last third of the book, with twists and turns and final resolutions that keep the novel both intriguing but also feel somewhat forced. Part of the denouement could not be more timely, asking what can women do with credible accusations against men in power, but the novel also asks more relatable questions about what friends owe each other and what can be forgiven. The Beautiful Words is a compelling story in a uniquely Australian setting for fans of Hannah Richell or Emily Bitto.
Fay Helfenbaum is a freelance writer and editor and was a bookseller for five years.