July 18, 2018 | Bluebottle by Belinda Castles is published by Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99, available now.
When I first started to read Bluebottle, by Belinda Castles, the first thing that struck me was the strong sense of place. Set in the northern beaches suburbs of Sydney, the novel begins,
There was a house on a honeycomb cliff above the Pacific, perched over a beach in air as scrubbed and softened as old linen.
BLUEBOTTLE is the story of a family who move to a cliff house in the northern beaches of Sydney. It focuses on siblings Jack, Lou and Phoebe and their relationship with their difficult father. It moves between two timelines, twenty years apart. It’s a family story about the relationships between brothers and sisters, the nuances of memory, domestic relationships, mental illness and the struggle to belong. There is also the mystery surrounding the disappearance of a local girl that adds to the drama and the danger.
The real star of this novel is the setting as a metaphor for the family and their life. Like the Bright’s, the ocean can sparkle and be alluring and fun however there is always an undercurrent, the darker waters and there are times when the ocean can be brutal in its assault of the shore. Violent. Unpredictable. Menacing.
This use of the coastal environment by Castles is masterfully done. For example, the family is jubilant yet wary of their father Charlie’s surprise purchase of a new house for the family. This atmosphere is reflected when the young siblings excitedly make their way down the cliff to swim in the rockpools and when one of them ends up sliced and bleeding quite badly from razor sharp shells in the pools.
Charlie Bright, the centre of the family chaos and mystery is as unpredictable as the coastal weather. His children and long suffering wife, Tricia, know how to read all of the signs of his discord, and do, as simply as reading the change in the air that is detectable before a storm. This is a family that knows when to batten down the hatches and brace for impact, and when to retreat to a quiet place and wait the storm out.
As I read this novel I was reminded of Tim Winton’s Breath, for the beautifully claustrophobic atmosphere of potential disaster, for the characters who are held prisoner by their memories and sense of value and worth and for the strong sense of identity, of Australian-ness. Bluebottle is a as darkly beautiful as the cover and a quintessentially Australian novel.
When not writing, Belinda Castles works as an editor, and lives with herhusband and daughters in Sydney. She has a Masters in Novel Writingfrom the University of Manchester. Her first novel was Falling Woman, and her second novel, The River Baptists, was the winner of the 2006 The Australian/Vogel Literary Award. Her latest novel is Hannah & Emil.
More about Belinda Castles
When did you start writing?
I used to write poems and stories as a child but really it began for me with a creative writing course at summer school in the States when I was on an exchange program at uni.
Who or what was the biggest inspiration for you to become a writer?
The books I loved as a child. I read everything I could get my hands on.
What are you reading at the moment?
Other Country by Stephen Scoursfield. It is incredibly evocative of a particular kind of Australian landscape.
Who are your three favourite authors and why?
Tim Winton, Peter Carey, Ian McEwan. Tim Winton’s novels have such grace and heart, Peter Carey’s are so inventive and stylish and Ian McEwan is just like a drug to me.
What inspired you to write The River Baptists?
The stories and characters on the Hawkesbury, but probably most of all the landscape itself. It is bewitching.
Are any of the characters taken from real life?
No, although the odd incident might come from a rumour or a story in the pub.
Where do you do your writing?
Wherever I can get some quiet! The car, the library, home when everyone’s out, other people’s houses when they’re away (I ask them first).
What’s the last piece of writing you hated and threw in the bin?
My entire second novel.
When you’re not writing what do you do?
Edit books, look after small children, watch British comedies with my husband, try and leave the house occasionally…