Book extract: Australian Gothic novel about to hit book stores

Day 30: In our month of sneak-peeks there hasn’t been a book like Sargasso by Kathy George which is described as Australian Gothic. The Brisbane-based author was born in South Africa and describes herself as a hopeless romantic. She has worked as a legal secretary but has always loved to write and holds a Masters of Fine Arts in Australian Gothic literature. Sargasso is her first book and it is one of the extracts we are publishing in the hope readers will be inspired to more Australian authors this year.

Sargasso by Kathy George.
Sargasso by Kathy George.

Extract from Sargasso by Kathy George:

Now

My hands are bandaged, but otherwise I am uninjured. Outwardly, there’s nothing wrong with me. I have heard them say it is a miracle we are both alive, particularly Tristan.

The last thing I remember is the screaming. I remember that because I wasn’t the one doing it. It wasn’t Tristan or Flint, either.

It was the house. Sargasso. The house was screaming, keening like wind flung helpless into the sky on a hot day.

They have given me a laptop, not a pen and paper. The doctor said it would be less painful to type with one finger than to hold a pen. But I expect the real reason is that they are afraid of what I might do with a pen. I heard him tell the nurse — when you don’t talk people assume you are deaf as well as mute — that the laptop is important because it gives me the means to communicate in case I want to get it off my chest. And I suppose this is what I am doing here, although I am not sure what the point is. They didn’t believe me when I was a child, why should they believe me now?

I have a bed, and a chair, and my own bathroom. I had an IV drip too, but they have taken that away now. The room is small but it has a window high up on one wall, cracked ajar, just enough to let in a little light from the outside world. And a little air.

And this evening after dinner, I thought I smelt the sea. I thought I smelt Sargasso, too, in the ashes blowing towards me.

Then

I was seven when we moved to Sargasso. It was the summer holidays. My father was an architect and my grandmother had helped him buy a piece of land on the coast, putting up the money for a house. It was her idea to call it Sargasso. Sargassum was a fancy name for kelp, and Sargasso was an area of water in the North Atlantic Ocean — the Sargasso Sea — the only sea on earth that has no coastline, no borders. That makes the name unique, she told

me. Dad designed the house and oversaw the construction, slaving over the tiniest details. An innovative house, the reviews said at the time. Conceptually brilliant. Intransigent — I had to look that word up because I was little — and inventive. They also said isolated and introverted, but we took no notice. Dad said there’d always be people who were resentful.

My memories of the move are sketchy, but I know Dolly cried and that’s probably why Flint found us. I was given her a day or two before we moved. She came in a long box, like the roses Dad sent to Mum, always with a card that simply said: Eleni, love Henry.

Only Dolly didn’t smell like roses, but of vinyl. If I close my eyes I can still smell her, even after all these years. It’s a particular odour, vinyl. To a little girl it’s the scent of anticipation. Of joy. I can see her, too, her moveable eyelids and soft, brown lashes, blonde curls and sparkly blue eyes. Her mouth partly open, she gazed at me from inside the box as though she had something to say, and even before I got the lid off she spoke. ‘I’ll always be your friend,’

she said. We were like that before Flint, close. She had dimples in her knees and wore a pink and white checked dress gathered at the waist, with a frilly petticoat underneath. On her feet were thin plastic shoes.

Mum said she was my consolation present. A distraction, I suppose she meant. Not that I was upset to be leaving, but packing boxes cluttered the hallway and big men in overalls roamed the house, and nothing was where it should be. The night before even my Winnie-the-Pooh light was gone, and I told Mum Dolly had woken in fright. Kelly, who was five years older than me, said I should grow up. Dad said nothing. He was standing in the kitchen — because they’d already taken the chairs — biting into a piece of toast and marmalade, and he ruffled my hair and gave me one of his special smiles. Dad wasn’t judgmental. There weren’t any expectations or conditions with Dad. He simply loved me, loved us.

He and I drove ahead in the ute. Sargasso was built on a headland, outside Shepherd Cove, a holiday town two hours’ drive down the west coast of Melbourne. We’d sold our small terrace

house in the inner city, and Mum and Kelly were staying behind to clean up. Mum thought I should remain with her. She said Dad would forget me once we arrived, that I’d get in the way, but I begged and pleaded, and finally she relented. I think she was relieved, really, to get me out from underfoot. Kelly said, ‘Good riddance, you little twit,’ when Mum was out of the room. And, ‘Take that stupid doll with you.’

This extract is from Sargasso by Kathy George (RRP$29.99). Published by Harper Collins it will be released on Febuary 3.


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