Reviewed by Belle Place, editor of Readings Monthly.
The protagonist of Suzanne McCourt’s debut novel, The Lost Child, is Sylvie, a sharp-witted but vulnerable young girl. Living in the small fishing town of Burley Point, her father is violent and angry, her mother brooding and distant. After her adored older brother Dunc goes missing under mysterious circumstances, Sylvie blames herself, and flails to find someone, or something, to buoy her.
Situated on the wild coast of southern Australia, the town teems with movement through Sylvie’s eyes. Stretches of beach with hidden blowholes and thick bush hiding snakes and birdlife both scare and provide comfort. To bring the landscape in this close to her protagonist is a good trick by McCourt; the brimming, coiling environment neatly mirrors Sylvie’s tumultuous home life, allowing another layer of expression.
McCourt’s writing is assured and sinuous, the voice of Sylvie moving with equal measure between the rough and tumble of a child’s perspective and clipped, shrewd observations: ‘…People don’t really want to know if you’re sick. Or that fathers burn houses.’ Sylvie is dynamic, as quickly sending herself down a well of guilt and insecurity over her brother’s disappearance as she can whip into a rage against her absent father or wilting mother. McCourt has afforded Sylvie a witty sense of humour, and despite the bleakness surrounding her, she glimmers.
The Lost Child runs deeper and more darkly than a simple, small-town domestic story, and though not quick-paced, Sylvie captivates. From an ordinary child, McCourt has finely carved a protagonist who refuses to fit the prescribed mould. She is a fire spark, just the type who will burrow herself deeply within the reader, and be not lost at all.
‘There’s a watchful intensity to McCourt’s writing, a remarkable ability to discover within the most concrete details a rich and raw emotion…a novel that is at once very familiar and entirely fresh.’
Weekend Australian Review
‘The Lost Child is an assured and bittersweet coming-of-age tale with a vivid sense of time and place…The novel is a strong addition to the shelves of Australian literary fiction.’
Australian Bookseller and Publishing
‘In his scholarly work, The Country of Lost Children, Peter Pierce presents a detailed analysis of the haunting presence of lost children in the history, art and literature of Australia. Suzanne McCourt’s first novel, The Lost Child, adds another disturbing narrative to the genre.’
Carmel Bird, The Guardian
‘Suzanne McCourt has with great empathy and skill created the turmoil in the mind of a little girl…a haunting story, it also demonstrates the power of the human psyche to overcome past difficulties and find ways to fully live.’
Otago Daily Times
‘Echoes of Tim Winton … plainspoken but deftly crafted, laced with both humour and searing sadness. Highly recommended.’
‘[The Lost Child] reminds me of the quality of Ruth Park’s writing in evoking the strengths and weaknesses of a small community…and the tragedies and humour amongst the everyday…A multi-layered novel with symbolism which stays with you after the last page. A significant writer with compassion. Highly recommended for adult and YA readers.’
‘…in portraying nature…McCourt’s writing is at its most fluent…she depicts the Coorong with the eye of a painter and poet…’
Australian Book Review
The Conversation: Australian literature and summer.
by Stephanie Green
Interview: Readings Monthly, March, 2014.
with Romy Ash