All The Books I Can Read

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Review: The Lost Summers Of Driftwood by Vanessa McCausland

on December 19, 2019

The Lost Summers Of Driftwood
Vanessa McCausland
Harper Collins AUS
2019, 352p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

She remembered this part of the trip during the day time. Her sisters on either side in the back. The sunlight flickering through branches was like looking through a kaleidoscope. How could that be so long ago? How could so much have gone wrong?

Phoebe’s life has fallen apart and there’s only one place left to go. Alone and adrift after a failed marriage proposal, she flees Sydney to her family’s abandoned holiday cottage.

On the slow-moving river Phoebe is confronted with the legacy of her older sister’s suicide, a year before. Why did Karin leave a note written in flowers and walk into the water?

Phoebe’s childhood love, Jez, has moved back to the beautiful old house, Driftwood, one jetty down. He’s married now and the home has become a refuge for an unlikely little community.

As the river begins to give up its secrets, Phoebe finds herself caught up in old feelings and new mysteries.

The Lost Summers of Driftwood is a story of lost loves, rekindled passions, tragedy and betrayal set against the backdrop of an idyllic south coast town.

This book arrived wrapped up like a Christmas present and inside were beautiful flower petals as well, sprinkled all over the cover. This book has a phenomenally beautiful cover – it really draws the eye and the two colours are so striking together. I was looking forward to reading it a lot so I decided to squeeze it in before I left for holidays (today! We are driving north as this post goes up). It’s a relatively quick read and not difficult to get involved in.

Phoebe was supposed to get engaged to her boyfriend. They’ve bought the ring together, they’ve booked the idyllic holiday to Hawaii where it’s supposed to happen. Only he tells her that he can’t go through with it and so upon return to Sydney, Phoebe flees to her grandparents’ home down the south coast of NSW. She spent summers there as a child with her sisters and until a year ago, her sister had been living there. Then Karen walked into the river and Phoebe has been struggling ever since. Perhaps staying at the house Karen was living in might give her some clarity – but all it does is make her sure that Karen didn’t take her own life.

Phoebe’s first love Jez is living in his family home, with his wife and several boarders just a short distance away. Despite the attraction that rises up between them again, Phoebe allows herself to get caught up in the life at Driftwood, spending the evenings eating the food the Texan cooks and drinking copious cocktails. Jez’s wife Asha is prickly and troubled but the cottage is helping heal her, see that her life has not been satisfying of late.

So summer is in full swing here and although I’ve been lucky where I live, many parts of Australia, including where my parents live and the very place we’ll be visiting, are in the grip of an early bushfire season. A lot of books that release around Christmas are northern hemisphere specific and I always find it hard to get excited about reading about snow and wood fires and cosy jackets when it’s 40 degrees and feeling like a furnace outside. So this is a quintessential Australian summer book – hot days, swimming in the river, barbecues outside in the evening, an icy cocktail. It even includes the realistic threat of bushfires and the decision of staying and defending properties.

I really enjoyed maybe the first third of this, which is a glimpse into Phoebe’s life as the social media manager for a champagne company, selling the lifestyle of the brand as also the preparation and trip to Hawaii, how it all goes wrong and her fleeing to the family holiday home. Phoebe is at a real crossroads in both her personal and her professional life. She’s also still grieving the loss of her sister just a year ago. She and her sister were close and Phoebe doesn’t feel connected to either her mother or her other sister. Karen and Phoebe were connected, they saw similarities in themselves and the differences they had from their mother and other sister. Without Karen, Phoebe seems to feel alone and adrift. A part of her is missing. And after spending some time in the house where Karen was living, talking to the people that spent time with her, she becomes convinced that Karen would not have chosen to end her own life. But if she didn’t…..then how she came to be in the river suddenly feels like it’s even more sinister.

I don’t like books about infidelity, as I’ve mentioned before. They’re just not my thing and I’m yet to read one that presents it in a way where I can understand and sympathise with the characters and their predicament. So I was not at all invested in Phoebe and Jez. They’re teenage sweethearts who haven’t seen each other in what must be fifteen years. Phoebe left the holiday cottage behind for a busier and more glamorous life. And now Jez is married and even though the marriage is rocky, his and Phoebe’s actions left me feeling very uncomfortable. Asha, Jez’s wife is openly stand-offish to Phoebe at first, as his ex-girlfriend and teenage love. And it’s obvious that she was right to be. Phoebe basically starts spending every day there, hanging out for meals cooked by one of Jez and Asha’s boarders and even staying there when the fires threaten. It felt quite awkward and rude as heck too. I didn’t buy that it was this huge romance that had stood the test of time apart – it actually didn’t feel like Phoebe had given Jez more than a minute’s thought until he came to see her when she arrived at the cottage. Jez came off as sly and spineless and incredibly untrustworthy. I didn’t enjoy him as a character at all and didn’t see his appeal. I actually felt quite sorry for Asha and even though she was abrupt and prickly, you couldn’t blame her in the end.

It takes rather a long time for the story of if Karen committed suicide or not to go anywhere and I’m not sure the resolution was satisfactory for me, how Phoebe managed to uncover the answers she needed. For me the setting and atmosphere were very good but the actual story itself sort of tailed off and lacked the impact and dramatic closure that I was expecting.


Book #212 of 2019

The Lost Summers Of Driftwood is book #76 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019. Just 4 books to go in order to complete my challenge!


3 responses to “Review: The Lost Summers Of Driftwood by Vanessa McCausland

  1. Claire Louisa says:

    I’ve been looking at this, I’m glad I didn’t buy it, I think it’s one for the library card.

  2. Hmm the cover makes it tempting, the premise not so much

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