The Chamberlain case was the background to my entire childhood. Outside, we had smiling Safety House signs screwed to each letterbox in the street. Every house safe. Every house a refuge. While inside, the court case of a mother alleged to have murdered her child played out each night, in prime time, in the lounge room.
Yes, this is my memory too. And that adults all had an opinion about Lindy Chamberlain. However, The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone by Felicity McLean is not an account of the Chamberlain case. Instead, the case provides an interesting parallel to the fictitious part of this book – the disappearance of the three Van Apfel sisters, Hannah, the beautiful Cordelia and Ruth.
The story is told from the perspective of Tikka – she’s almost twelve-years-old when the Van Apfel girls go missing, and their disappearance haunts her. Decades later, Tikka returns to her home town, hoping to understand what happened.
Hints about the possible reasons for the girls’ disappearance are dropped early in the story, with two frontrunners – a physically abusive father, also a religious zealot, and a new male teacher at the girls’ school, who seems to be hanging around at unlikely times.
Did McLean lay enough groundwork for these scenarios to be plausible? Yes, in the case of the father but no in the case of the teacher, whose circumstances were a little contrived. I won’t say more for fear of spoilers but with each suspect, the establishment of motive felt obvious and clumsy – I prefer my clues more deftly embedded in the story.
I enjoyed the detail of the girls’ lives – cruising around on bikes, swimming in backyard pools, the excitement of the a school production.
We ran elaborate underwater handstand competitions in the Van Apfel pool that day. First round, second round, best of the best. Our skinny legs stabbing at the sky like the bows of some demented orchestra.
I also enjoyed the well-observed dynamic between Tikka and her older sister, Laura, and between the Van Apfel girls.
My sister’s barometer…had always been two years older, two years superior to mine. And she was right of course, and at the same time she was wrong. I was responsible and not guilty. I was both things, and neither. Like the valley: a thing and a void.
This is a quick, non-taxing read and while enjoyable, it’s not a story that will linger with me.
2.5/5 I had higher hopes.
I received my copy of The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone from the publisher, Harper Collins Australia, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
For a whole week I’d watched our neighbours deliver casseroles and pasta bakes to the Van Apfel front doorstep, laying their colour-coordinated Tupperware on the doormat. Mrs McCausley would have approved of all that Tupperware – she’d sold almost all of it to us.
Even though I don’t believe people would have actually left their Tupperware, I do love a pasta bake. Try this chicken, leek and pea bake.