An empty house, a lonely shore, an enigmatic, brooding man-child waiting for her return… a trip to the dark lands of Australian Gothic, for readers of Kate Morton and Hannah Richell.
Last night I dreamt I went to Sargasso again…
As a child, Hannah lived at Sargasso, the isolated beachside home designed by her father, a brilliant architect. A lonely, introverted child, she wanted no company but that of Flint, the enigmatic boy who no one else ever saw… and who promised he would always look after her.
Hannah’s idyllic childhood at Sargasso ended in tragedy, but now as an adult she is back to renovate the house, which she has inherited from her late grandmother. Her boyfriend Tristan visits regularly but then, amid a series of uncanny incidents, Flint reappears… and as his possessiveness grows, Hannah’s hold on the world begins to lapse. What is real and what is imaginary, or from beyond the grave?
I’d like to start by saying that I’m a huge fan of Gothic fiction (I’ve read and re-read the works of the Bronte sisters at least one hundred times), which is why I was more than excited to get my hands on Sargasso by Kathy George, a mesmerising modern Australian novel that echoes the great Gothic stories of love and hate: Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and especially Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca.
Seamlessly dipping back and forth between the past and the present, the novel is split into two time periods, following Hannah as she moves into Sargasso with her family as a child, and twenty years later when she returns to the house alone. The titular house is crucial to the story, and George spends a lot of time describing its brilliant glass windows and wide, empty halls. But don’t let Sargasso’s modern façade fool you, situated on an isolated clifftop, overlooking a wild and restless seascape, the house is remote, mysterious and atmospheric – the perfect setting for any Gothic novel.
Hannah herself was an intriguing protagonist, who reminded me a lot of Du Maurier’s famous heroine, Rebecca. George states in the Acknowledgments of Sargasso that Rebecca, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre and a number of other gothic classics served as inspiration for her when writing Sargasso, and it’s impossible not to draw comparisons to these great works when you follow Hannah’s story and watch her slowly lose her grip on reality – as so many gothic heroines do.
Dark, unsettling and utterly enthralling, Sargasso is a suspenseful page-turner that builds to an incredible and shocking end. It’s a marvellous debut from Kathy George, and I’ll certainly be keeping my eye out for this author in the future.