Described as part mystery, part coming of age story, The Van Apfel Girls are Gone is set in a suburb that haunts a valley on the fringes of Sydney. Something about this novel stayed with me long after I had read the final page. Perhaps it is the Australian, suburban setting, or maybe the fact that the events take place in 1992, a time when I also was 16 and struggling to find my identity and place in the world. Most likely it is the black humour and sense of eeriness that McClean imbues the tale which fixed this title apart from the many others I’ve read this year.
The summer the girls went missing, the narrator, Tikka, was 11 and one sixth years old, and in the thrall of the Van Apfel girls – particularly Cordelia, the middle daughter who was beautiful, mysterious and captivating. Now an adult, Tikka has returned to the valley, and she recounts her memories of the events of that summer.
The theme of this book is not particularly original, and reviews draw easily understood parallels with Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Virgin Suicides. We know the girls will disappear – it’s in the title – and the writing moves languidly, infected by the heat and the simple, slow pace of a life before mobile phones and the internet. Despite all this, I found this book hard to put down, and enjoyed every moment of it. I thoroughly recommend it as a summer holiday read – a perfect combination of melancholy beauty, black humour and Australian gothic.