Bettina Scott lives a tidy, quiet life in Runagate, tending to her delicate mother and their well-kept garden after her father and brothers disappear – until a note arrives that sends Bettina into the scrublands beyond, searching for answers about what really happened to this town, and to her family.
For this is a land where superstitions hunt and folk tales dream – and power is there for the taking, for those willing to look.
19-year-old Bettina Scott lives with her mother; her father and two brothers disappeared three years earlier. Kathleen Jennings’ Flyaway is a gothic, mythical fantasy novella set within a Western Queensland town. Bettina has never found out what happened to them, and after a note implies one, or more, of her brothers is still alive, Bettina embarks on a journey to uncover the truth.
Flyaway is a blend of the real and the otherworldly — the book is underpinned by a subtle hint of unease and rising tension. At just 180 pages, Flyaway is a quick read.
“She made it to the trees. Later, they would find a thread of her coat caught on the bark of a dead silky oak, although they would not know whether she had left it coming or going.”
I feel like there’s two elements to this review — writing style, and the actual story itself.
Kathleen’s prose is lyrical and poetic, gorgeous. She evokes emotions and images with the quickest and brutal of sentences. Dialogue is brief and sparse, but welcome. Kathleen incorporates similes and metaphors that really sing off the page. Immediately, I felt completely enveloped by her writing and her prose. Kathleen has an incredible ability of weaving words together to create really evocative sentences.
“The triangle tangle of roads and tracks held the district of Inglewell: hills and scrub glittered in the power-white light, fading to chalk blue; sharp grasses fluttered pale in the paddocks, green and burgundy on the verge; grey huts subsided into themselves like memory.”
Okay, the actual story. Truthfully? I hate to say this because I really wanted to love this, but I was quite bored reading this. Not even exquisite prose can make me fall in love with cardboard cut-out characters. And sometimes, it really felt like these characters fell a bit flat. At times, the dialogue felt stilted and unnatural, particularly between Bettina and her mother. And none of the characters felt particularly fleshed out to me. It felt like Kathleen spent so much time perfecting each sentence, but she didn’t spend enough time on the story and characters as a whole.
Additionally, I just didn’t ‘feel’ the magic/folklore element that the blurb and cover promised. Moments of fantasy are peppered throughout, albeit randomly, and it did feel a little thin and disorienting. This felt like a stretched tale — could this have just been a short story? Browsing reviews of this novella make it clear that I’m definitely in the minority with these thoughts — there’s a lot of love out there for this book, so there’s obviously just something about this plot and this story that didn’t quite resonate with me like it did other readers.
“Then there were stories of those who had simply…gone. Walked into the trees or vanished from a tent in the night, been swallowed up in long-fingered leaves, waded into waterholes or fallen through cracks in the earth. Or those who had got into the car one night and driven off without saying goodbye.”
Recommended for fans of fantasy and the supernatural. Fans of literary fiction will welcome the writing style and poetic cohesion of Kathleen’s words.
Thank you to the publisher for mailing me a review copy in exchange for an honest review.
Pan Macmillan Publishers Australia