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The Newcomer
by Laura Elizabeth Woollett
Review

I was only sorry that due to scheduling time constraints, I was unable to take part in the official Blog Tour for this book.

However, I would like to thank Patricia, representing Scribe Publications, for kindly sending me a lovely paperback copy of the book, in return for a review at my earliest convenience.

Cover image of the book 'The Newcomer' by author Laura Elizabeth Woollett

THE NEWCOMER

Cover image of the book 'The Newcomer' by author Laura Elizabeth WoollettIn a hotel room on a sleepy Pacific island, Judy Novak waits. And worries. It isn’t the first time 29-year-old problem child Paulina has kept her mother waiting.

But Judy can’t ignore the island’s jagged cliffs and towering pines — or the dread that Paulina has finally acted on her threats to take her own life.

When Paulina’s body is discovered, Judy’s worst fears seem confirmed. Only, Paulina didn’t kill herself. She was murdered.

Every man on the island is a suspect, yet none are as maligned as Paulina herself, the captivating newcomer known for her hard drinking, disastrous relationships, and habit of walking alone. 

But even death won’t stop Judy Novak from fighting for her daughter’s life.

Cover image of the book 'The Newcomer' by author Laura Elizabeth Woollett

LAURA ELIZABETH WOOLLETT

Image of author Laura Elizabeth WoollettLaura Elizabeth Woollett is the author of a short story collection, The Love of a Bad Man (Scribe, 2016), and two novels, Beautiful Revolutionary (Scribe, 2018) and The Newcomer (forthcoming Scribe, 2021).

The Love of a Bad Man was shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction and the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Fiction.

Beautiful Revolutionary was shortlisted for the 2019 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Fiction, the Australian Literature Society Gold Medal, and the Kathleen Mitchell Award.

Laura is the City of Melbourne’s 2020 Boyd Garret writer-in-residence and is a 2020-22 Marten Bequest scholar for prose.

Visit Laura at her website

Follow Laura on Twitter

Cover image of the book 'The Newcomer' by author Laura Elizabeth Woollett

FIRST LINES

OVERDUE

Just like grief, waiting had stages. And by two o’clock, Judy Novak was well and truly in the anger phase.

Thirty years old! And still bloody selfish. Well, whose fault is that?

The Mutineers’ Lodge cabins had been renovated for high season. Marine-blue carpet. Brochures swimming under coffee-table glass. Drapes so red they hurt her eyes. ‘You have to stay at Mutes’!’ Paulina had insisted, months back. ‘I’ll make your bed and serve you breakfast!’

So proud of the fact that she could finally make a bed. Making an appointment – not so much.

Two hours late! Island time be damned. It’s selfish, bloody selfish.

Judy had called – how many times? Enough. She’d call again. Just once. On the bedside phone, so plasticky-new it looked like a toy

Cover image of the book 'The Newcomer' by author Laura Elizabeth Woollett

MEMORABLE LINES

“Life’s boring. Gotta make some noise or the void will swallow me”

.

“There’s no right or wrong way to grieve,’ Agnes said.

.

“It was school pick-up hour. She had to pass the school to get from Fergal’s to Rabbit’s, and the little kids just reminded her. Reminded her of things she hadn’t known she wanted, like chatter in the back seat, and cutting the crusts off sandwiches, and helping with homework, and most of all being a different kind of woman; the kind who wasn’t pissed on glovebox vodka at three in the arvo. And then it hit her: she was really pissed”

.

“There was a time of day, just before sunset, when things could go one way or another. When the whole world looked like a diorama, the sky a slow-moving painting, and sometimes she felt lucky to be exactly where she was, smoking on her porch, and other times she wanted to take the washing line and knot it around her neck”

.

He’ll die before me, she didn’t say, but thought. I’ll die alone, yet

Cover image of the book 'The Newcomer' by author Laura Elizabeth Woollett

REVIEW

“There’s no such thing as a perfect victim” 

Wow! I apologise now for all the epithets which might come to the fore in this review. However, this was one hard-hitting, no-holds-barred storyline, written in a forthright, often abrasive style, by an author who doesn’t mince or sugar-coat her words. Be prepared for some very raw and coarse language and sexual references which leave little or nothing to the imagination. However, you won’t need to scratch too far beneath the tough veneer of the main protagonist Paulina, to appreciate that she is one seriously damaged and disturbed individual and that her personality is succinctly and wonderfully captured, in the often outrageous and graphic montages, which reflect how she lived her all too short life.

I recognise that this is really Paulina’s story to be told, however I felt that her mother, Judy’s story was equally relevant and disturbing, with the relationship between them being strained and dysfunctional at best, although peel away the layers and that in their own ways they loved each other without question or reservation, there can be no doubt. What should have been the strongest single point of commonality between them, the fragility and frailty of the human mind, was ultimately that which separated them and tore them apart.

The story of a damaged family, successive generational abuse and mental illness, Judy and her sister Caroline, had themselves endured a traumatic childhood, and the revelation that to this day ‘Caro’ still self-harms, despite the relatively ‘normal’ family life of her own she now enjoys, is no real surprise. Judy, on the other hand, is still lamenting the loss of Paulina’s father Marco, from many years ago and refuses to acknowledge his previous family, constantly in self-denial that Paulina has reached out to them and enjoys a good, long-distance friendship with her stepsister, Milica. Judy definitely isn’t mother-of-the-year material, yet when she arrives on the island to visit Paulina and is forced to return home with a coffin, the outpouring of grief appears genuine and palpable and although she is obviously looking for someone to blame and have them accept the consequences of their actions, she is willing to admit her own failings in influencing her daughter’s life. That she then commits the cardinal sin of lusting after Paulina’s one relatively stable male relationship, simply serves to reinforce the skewed outlook on commitment and relationships the female members of the family seem to have. Even when, years later, Judy meets and marries another ‘mainie’ man, who is in many ways as damaged as she is, the urge to try and recapture that earlier lustful dalliance, is overwhelming.

Paulina’s life and ultimately her tragic death, is literally a car crash waiting to happen. Disruptive and constantly on the verge of hitting the self-destruct button, she is a pathological liar, whose gutter language is as normal to her as breathing air. She is crude, promiscuous, an anorexic alcoholic. She really doesn’t care how many lives and relationships she damages or ultimately breaks, in her desire to get what she thinks she wants, only to toss it to one side when she is bored and something, or someone better comes along. She expects to be treated badly and therefore isn’t surprised when she is, although what she had thought was an unwelcome pregnancy, which is then miscarried, affects her much more than she thought it would. In the early 2000s, the eclectic mix of ethnic and cultural groups on the small island of Fairfolk (reportedly Norfolk Island) meant that there was obvious racial bias, which Paulina treated with her trademark contempt. Alongside that, there is also a strong misogynistic trait which runs through the male population of ethnic persuasion and of which Paulina is ultimately and inevitably, doomed to fall foul. However, despite that damning indictment of one totally screwed up and damaged young person, does that mean she would ever have deserved her eventual, devastating, terrible and no doubt terrifying fate? She is after all, still a victim!

A bold and powerful portrayal of societal and cultural mores, the short and fluent chapters, successfully alternated between past and present (pre and post Paulina’s death) and kept the story moving along at a steady pace, towards its inexorably lugubrious conclusion. This was such a complex, challenging and multi-layered storyline; which was ultra intense, rich in atmosphere, cloyingly claustrophobic, highly textured and often very uncomfortable to read. I almost forgot that to some degree, this was also a crime story, which almost became a secondary plot for me. However author Laura Woollett, seamlessly and masterfully structured the storyline and laid the groundwork for her suspects, of which, as you can imagine, there were plenty. I never even came close to putting a name or face to the killer though, so be prepared for a total surprise. Some skilled imagery with words added real depth, range and descriptive qualities, to the immersive narrative and dialogue, which although often unsettling, afforded a poignant, evocative, compelling and genuine sense of time and place.

Albeit that Laura has undoubtedly put together a well drawn and developed cast of characters, who captured my attention, I felt that I couldn’t even begin to relate to, invest in or identify with, any single one of them, so repugnant, unlikable and disconnected from reality were they and so little did any of them invoke an ounce of my sympathy. There were no neatly packaged and tied endings, and definitely no ‘happy ever afters’ for anyone in this insular and isolated society.

Based loosely on the true story of Janelle Patton’s murder, which I must admit I knew nothing about, although a comprehensive Google and Wikipedia search soon put that right, this story is a blended mix of fact and fiction, which whilst I could tell was factual in timeline, I also hope was accurate in characterisation and was not too disingenuous to the real victim. My review however, treated this completely as a work of fiction, which is how I chose to read it.

The Newcomer was not an easy read and having checked out a small selection of previous reviews, I really do think that this is one book which will take each reader on their own individual journey and for whom the author will unlock and stimulate unique senses to fire the imagination and provoke much thought and soul-searching.

Image of author Laura Elizabeth Woollett

A complimentary review copy was supplied by Scribe Publications.

Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.

I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a considered 5 out of 5 stars!

 

 

Written by
Yvonne

I can’t remember a time, even as a child, when I haven’t been passionate about books and reading.
I began blogging, when I realised just how many other people out there shared my passion for the written word and I have been continually amazed at the wealth of books that are available and the amount of great new friends I have made, from literally 'The Four Corners Of The World'.

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10 comments
  • I’m a bit torn as to whether I think I would enjoy this one or not. I do like stories that are “roughly” based on real life events and that’s one I’m not familiar with. I’ll have to do a little research of my own. I’m glad it was a winner for you, Yvonne!

    • I had to research the ‘real life’ event which inspired this storyline, but eventually I decided to simply read this as a work of pure fiction, as not knowing enough about the true story, I didn’t want to find myself comparing the two.

      It was definitely not an easy read and at times I found myself forgetting about the murder, mystery aspects of the storyline and focussing more on the disturbed and emotionally unstable characters, which seemed to be just about all of them!

      Not the book for everyone as the writing was tough and gritty, but Laura definitely got the message across loud and clear! 🙂

  • Another author that I don’t know…and a thought and soul-searching book seems like a good one to get to know the author. Thanks for another honest and awesome review, Yvonne.

    • I have quite a few Australian ‘friends’ on Goodreads and I have long promised myself that I should include more books by Australian authors in my reading, so when this opportunity came along, how could I refuse!

      This definitely wasn’t an easy read and I really needed to concentrate on putting myself in Paulina’s shoes, to feel her pain about life and why she is hellbent on treading such a self-destructive path.

      Thank you so much for you lovely words about this post. I truly appreciate that you take the time to stop by and say Hi! Have a lovely day 🙂

  • I don’t think this one is for me… I was going to say I’m glad you enjoyed it but I’m thinking ‘enjoyed’ is not quite the right word for what is obviously a very powerful novel. When you read that something like this is based on real events it stops you in your tracks a bit doesn’t it?

    I said on Twitter that I’d fill you in on why our start to the new year has been pretty awful. Sunday evening the phone rang and it was our youngest daughter. She works for a firm that sells carpet underlay all over the SW and S. Wales, she’s their finance manager. And poor soul she was standing in front of her workplace, which is out on an industrial estate on the fringes of Tiverton, and it was completely ablaze. I can’t tell you how shocked we were and still are. Their building held four businesses and all that’s left is the shell of a huge building. We heard today that the police have arrested two people for arson. It’s like something out of a book. Luckily it was still the Christmas break and at night too so no one was hurt. But my goodness, what a start to 2022!

    • I would definitely say that ‘enjoyed’ is probably stretching it a bit, although what other word(s) can one use, when the writing was so powerful and the storyline so engrossing, despite the rather torrid language and content. Regardless of all Paulina’s faults though, she certainly didn’t deserve to have her life cut short in such a terrible way.

      OMG! What a start to a year which I assumed could only get better for us all! It is so lucky that the buildings were unoccupied at the time though, or things might have been so much worse. The fact that your daughter was stood outside looking in on the devastation, was a bonus in itself! I wonder if it was a wanton act of vandalism, or a disgruntled employee or associate from one of the companies? Is your daughter’s company able to rebuild its business, or does this mean that her year has gotten off to an even worse start with her losing her job?

      I am also guessing that with your eldest daughter being a teacher, things are pretty fraught for her right now too! I just wonder where this is all going to end, let alone WHEN!

      Take care of each other 🙂

    • The ratings and reviews for this book have been quite mixed and you do have to be quite broad-minded to read it, to get a sense of the sadness and desperation behind Paulina’s rough edges, foul language and sexual proclivities. For me, it was really worth the journey!

      I hope that your Christmas was good and I wish you and yours every happiness in 2022! 🙂

    • Punchy is actually a good word to describe so many different aspects of this book, from the characters themselves, to the writing style of the author, which, given the hard-hitting synopses for her previous books, I should imagine is her stock-in-trade. She definitely shoots from the hip and takes no prisoners!

      Thanks for taking the time to stop by and I would like to take the opportunity to wish you every happiness in 2022! 🙂

Written by Yvonne

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