Jagged Edge of Joy by Liz Newton

For the Wishart family the summer holidays once more stretch languidly over the sun drenched beachside camping spot north of Sydney where parents Joe and Evie have brought the family year after year. It’s the summer of 1961 and baby Nellie for the first time joins in the holiday along with her brothers Pete and Dave, who are three and five years old respectively, and big sister Beth who is ten.

These hazy, lazy days of summer bring a welcome break in routine for Joe from his burden of factory responsibilities as both owner and manager, while Evie loves the chance to catch up with extended family and familiar faces as all enjoy the delights of their seaside sanctuary. Sun, sand, shells and the sea provide the raw ingredients for the whole clan to create their own versions of a perfect holiday but 1961 brings a shadow which will shatter the Wishart family.

Every parent’s worst nightmare is the loss of their child, but for the Wisharts there is no certainty, no coffin, no closure. Suspicion is cast in all directions and narrows to focus squarely on those who know the family. Joe and Evie return home and try to maintain some semblance of a normal family routine but without resolution their grief is ever present, sometimes masked or momentarily stifled but never far from the surface. Eventually the Wisharts find the answers they have so long sought after that fateful summer holiday turned their lives into a nightmare from which there was no escape, but will this knowledge bring relief or further devastation?

Liz Newton has delved deep into the family dynamics associated with the loss of a child and follows the aftermath of this tragedy for each of the Wishart family members as well as its echoed impact on the Blackstone family. Newton’s characters are complex and layered, finely drawn and achingly real. They continue to develop as lives are turned upside down and truth becomes abstract, delayed to be dealt with another time.

Newton authentically recreates Australia of the 1960s and 1970s  through clever references to popular culture, local and world events and delights the reader through her keen ear for the vernacular in dialogue. Turning the pages of this skilfully crafted and engrossing story inserts the reader into a time capsule where the simpler times of Australia are perhaps to be found, yet darkness and danger may lurk in any era.

Parallels with contemporary historical cases are raised such as the kidnap and murder of Graeme Thorne, the disappearance of the Beaumont children and the Wanda Beach murders which blur the line between fact and fiction in this compelling story. While happiness  is hidden in plain sight it is grief, pain, secrets and lies which fuel Jagged Edge of Joy, stoking the coals of this riveting read – impossible to put down!

Reviewed by Chris McGuigan

April 2017

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