Monday, January 18, 2021

Review: The Valley of Lost Stories

Title: The Valley of Lost Stories
Author: Vanessa McCausland

Publisher: 2nd December 2020 by Harper Collins Australia

Pages: 406 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: contemporary, mystery, women’s fiction

My Rating: 4 cups


Beautiful, beguiling and treacherous ... Big Little Lies meets Picnic at Hanging Rock in a secluded valley over the Blue Mountains.

Four women and their children are invited to the beautiful but remote Capertee Valley for a much-needed holiday.

Once home to a burgeoning mining industry, now all that remains are ruins slowly being swallowed by the bush and the jewel of the valley, a stunning, renovated Art Deco hotel. This is a place haunted by secrets. In 1948 Clara Black walked into the night, never to be seen again.

As the valley beguiles these four friends, and haunts them in equal measure, each has to confront secrets of her own: Nathalie with a damaged marriage; Emmie yearning for another child; Pen struggling as a single parent; and Alexandra hiding in the shadow of her famous husband.

But as the mystery of what happened seventy years earlier unravels, one of the women also vanishes into this bewitching but wild place, forcing devastating truths to the surface.

My Thoughts

I read and loved Vanessa’s first book, The Lost Summers of Driftwood, and was therefore full of anticipation to read her latest release. Here she has proven, yet again, that she is a skilful writer capable of creating true atmospheric stories with locations that will draw her readers in. 

‘And don’t you feel it? There’s something about this place. This whole valley. After all, I'm not spiritual, but I don’t know ... I can’t really articulate it. I feel like anything could happen. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad, given I live such a boring life.’     

Set in two timelines (which Vanessa handles seamlessly) a mystery slowly unfolds. This is a book with a number of themes. Foremost is the theme of friendship with the four women who go away, and tied into that of course, are the issues each of them face and how these are brought to the surface through their interactions. Whether it be parenting or marriage issues, Vanessa covers all bases with each of her Mums. I also very much enjoyed the second yet shorter narrative on Jean from the 1940s and her sad plight. 

 ‘The dark cliffs loomed above her, a reminder of just how far they were from everything. There was no sound save the movement of leaves in the breeze and the occasional hoot of an owl. But she sensed the thrum of life under the inky blanket. She looked up. The sky was clear and star-strewn. There was a brightness to the night sky that you didn’t get in the city. It was like looking to the edge of the universe. Perspective. How tiny her worries. How small her

world. She took a deep breath. They really were in the middle of nowhere.’

Perhaps, however, the highlight of this book, which sets it apart from similar ones, is the true gothic feel Vanessa brings to it. The location itself is critical to the tale and when cleverly combined with key aspects, the reader has an old school gothic mystery in their hands. Locked doors, possible ghost sightings, no phone coverage, go hand in hand within this remote Australian bush refurbished hotel. 

Whilst I did not find this as strong a read as Vanessa’s first book and parts of the mystery are somewhat easy to deduce, there is enough on offer through other aspects of the story with its subplots to keep the reader turning the pages. A little mystery in both a historical and contemporary context with a set of female mother/friend issues is quite an undertaking but Vanessa certainly pulls it off. 

‘So many stories lost, steeped into the soil, into the valley’s soul.’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

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