Author: Josephine Pennicott
Pan Macmillan RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan

Currawong Manor

A few months ago I was visiting the Blue Mountains in NSW and, watching the mist swirl around the hills from my coffee-shop vantage point, commented to a friend that the setting was perfect for a gothic novel. I grew up near there and there’s this delicious eerie-ness about the place, especially the Upper Mountains, akin to Victoria’s Hanging Rock. Although ideas swirled in my head that day, author Josephine Pennicott has beaten me to it with Currawong Manor, an atmospheric tale of secrets and suspense set in the present-day and 1940s.

The World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains are well-known for their magnificent views and stunning mountain gardens, but day-trippers and tourists are rarely privy to the more mysterious pull of the region that comes from the mist-shrouded trees, disappearances, legends and more. At times, when I visit, I sense that the bush is the holder of ancient secrets. The mysterious nature of the bush was a source of concern for early settlers, who saw the place as one where people disappeared; artist Frederick McCubbin’s 1886 painting, The Lost Child, builds on that sense of anxiety and fear – based on a true story, it’s a painting that has stuck with me and comes to mind when I think of the Blue Mountains.

Pennicott has succeeded in capturing this legendary sense of mystery, anxiety and fear juxtaposed with beauty and wonder in Currawong Manor. Her prose paints scenes with vivid colour and shadowy undertones. Consider this sample:

It seemed a mockery that Devil’s Leap should shimmer with so much rich beauty. The rocks shone with multi-jewelled browns, copper and rust tones. We were on the edge of the world and the air was filled with ancient magic and dreaming. Hundreds of feet below us stretched thick bush, strewn with rocky outcrops. Anything you could imagine might be down there. Even the stones seemed to carry power and ancient stories; the forest might be filled with birds that knew the secrets of time.

Currawong Manor centres around a house, once home to artist Rupert Partridge, his family and his three muses, but now in process of being restored by its new owner. Photographer (and Partridge’s grand-daughter) Elizabeth Thorrington is invited to document the history of the house for a book, which opens the door to her investigating an old mystery: What happened to Partridge following the deaths of his wife, Doris, and daughter, Shalimar? Speculation has long been rife and continues 60 years later, but the truth has never been discovered. Elizabeth’s questioning leads her to Ginger Lawson, one of Rupert’s life models from the forties, and Dolly Shaw, the daughter of the enigmatic ‘dollmaker’ who seems to have been protected over the years by the Partridge family, and while Elizabeth is sure they know something, she’s hard pressed to find out what. Meanwhile, a menacing presence haunts the grounds and nearby woods and Elizabeth soon finds herself feeling more and more disturbed.

Set in the fictional town of Mount Bellwood (most likely based on Blackheath, NSW), the story weaves in other haunting elements such as premonitions of death shown via the gathering of currawongs, strange characters and unseen prowlers lurking under cover of the trees, as well as references to Daphne Du Maurier’s classic, Rebecca. The dual time period narrative is told in the first and third person through recollections, flashbacks and present-day reporting. It all comes together to create a gothic-style story brimming with intrigue, bohemia, secrets and betrayals with an unusual twist that may just inspire some further research.

Currawong Manor has everything I love in a novel – a decaying house creating a dark and oppressive setting (enhanced by the mountain location), a heightened sense of suspense, a slowly-unfolding mystery, and some sinister characters (including the house and the nearby woods). There are also secondary romantic elements, which add to the tension. The standout feature for me was the sense of place; because it was captured so well, it made me want to plan a holiday to the Blue Mountains sooner rather than later.

For those who love a good gothic-style mystery, add Currawong Creek to your to-read list – I highly recommend it. I’ve added Pennicott’s 2013 novel, Poet’s Corner, to my to-read list.

Available from good bookstores and Pan Macmillan. My copy was courtesy of Pan Macmillan.

Bookish treat: I feel a yearning for a coffee and chocolate at the Paragon Cafe in Katoomba – a place I loved as a child.

GIVEAWAY: I have one copy of Currawong Creek to give away to an AU reader (sorry, international readers, but postage costs are too high). To be in the running, just comment below and tell me the most eerie-feeling place you’ve ever been to.

WINNER: meedee89 – Congratulations!



Monique Mulligan

Monique Mulligan

0 Responses

  1. I went on a bushwalk in Springbrook national park and I was walking faster then the other people as they were stopping to take photographs, and I got to a gap in the rocks, I couldn’t hear another person at all, it was so quiet and a bit creepy. I ended up walking back to find the others instead of walking through the gap in the rocks on my own.

  2. I went on a bushwalk in Springbrook national park and I was walking faster then the other people as they were stopping to take photographs, and I got to a gap in the rocks, I couldn’t hear another person at all, it was so quiet and a bit creepy. I ended up walking back to find the others instead of walking through the gap in the rocks on my own.

  3. The most eerie place would have to be Hanging Rock. I had never been before, but late last year, my husband planned a day trip for us and our three young daughters.
    It was really eerie reading all about the famous picnic that took place there, and seeing photos in the visitor’s information centre. Taking photos of our girls near where the mystery took place was really surreal.

  4. I had a rather eerie experience at Victoria’s Hanging Rock very early in the morning when there were no other people around except for my partner. We had each gone our own way, weaving around rocks, and stopping to photograph the view. For a moment I felt like I was about to bump into Miranda as the rocks seemed to throb around me, the oppressive silence suddenly broken by footsteps heading my way. I rounded a large rock expecting to see my partner, but there was no one there – he had headed back to the car park minutes beforehand, and looking around I could suddenly see him far below, which meant I was all alone. Eeek!
    I also live in the Blue Mountains, which I call ‘David Lynch country’. Like Tasmania, it has a wonderfully gothic quality and I always enjoy seeing how people capture that essence on the page.

  5. I was with my boyfriend at the time (later to become my husband) I was in my teens and we were taking a bush walk in Rotorua, New Zealand. I said to my boyfriend that there was an odd feeling about a certain area in that bush and I said that i felt like i was surrounded by spirits. He took a photo of me and when we got the photos back we were stunned to be able to see several faces in the photo of people that were not there when he took the photo.

  6. The creepiest place I’ve been to was the mortuary at Port Arthur. We did the ghost tour at night. At the start it was interesting but not really very ghosty. Then we got to the morgue & that really freaked me out. I was sure I could smell formaldehyde. It was really unpleasant and I couldn’t wait to get out of there. The other place I’d nominate is Willow Court in New Norfolk, Tasmania, which is an abandoned mental hospital. The buildings are all in disrepair and a lot have been vandalised. Some of them are being restored, and occasionally they hold open days where you can look through some of the older buildings. Walking through, you can sense the sadness and despair of the people who were institutionalised. Again, an extremely uncomfortable place to be and, although I find it interesting, I just can’t stay there for very long.

  7. The mushroom tunnel at Picton. The army used to hide ammunition in tunnel and also a young girl was hit by a train. It is very eerie there and I have had a spooky encounter …a man standing in front of me and it was like I couldnt move and the feeling of dread.

  8. When I worked for an International Freight company in Brisbane, they held their Christmas Party at the Boggo Road Jail.. and walking through the cells gave me the creeps.. chills.. and it was a hot night. Things that must have gone on there long ago.. haunting.

  9. I was visiting friends in a remote part of Queensland. Taking a long walk along dusty dirt tracks, I saw, amongst the bush, a neglected house. There were children’s toys scattered through the overgrown grass, faded remnants of clothes on the line, and, returning later after hearing the story, peering through the dirty windows, half eaten mouldy food still sitting on the table. I was told the family that had lived there, had simply disappeared. Over a year later, the remains of the father were found hanging in a tree.

  10. The most eerie place that I have been to by far is a night tour of Fremantle Prison……. Speaks for its self

    1. I have never been brave enough to do the night tour! The day tour was spooky enough. A friend of mine went to a ball (?!!) there and said it was very unsettling.

  11. Thank you so much for announcing me as the lucky winner.
    I have responded to your email with delight 🙂

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