Flyaway by Kathleen Jennings

Posted On 30 July 2020

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My TL:DR Five Word Review : Fairytale-fuelled-small-town-creepiness

FlyawayFlyaway is a book of family horror intertwined with fairytale elements told in an extravagant fashion and set in the searing heat of small town Australia.  Similar to fairy tales, at the heart of Flyaway lurks a mystery, family secrets and a dark and sinister outcome that quite belies the flowery prose and beautifully illustrated cover.

In a nutshell, this started off rather slowly for me and in some respects, and being fairly short in nature, I’m now tempted to go back to the beginning and read it over to see how it pans out on a second airing, but, in spite of my initial reservation I have to confess that I felt compelled to read this and once I became a bit more familiar with the author’s style and the mystery began to open up I had no problems devouring this in one sitting.

In terms of plot, I’m not going to elaborate too much here.  In fact, if I was to sit down and summarise this story  I suspect I wouldn’t have much more to say than this is a family mystery with a little more to it than expected.   Basically, Bettina Scott is a young woman who lives in a strange state of lethargy or fugue.  Relentlessly conditioned by her prim and proper mother she’s almost like a ghost character unable to function without the constant echoes of her mother’s voice inside her head telling her how to behave.  One day, Bettina receives a strange note that sets her off on an even stranger journey to try and discover why her brothers and father disappeared.

What I really liked about Flyaway are the strange allusions to various fairy tales – none of them quite as they were originally told.  There are hints of Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty and the Pied Piper all tied together with a much darker version of the Wild Swans tale.  Underneath the whimsy and poetic prose lies one family’s very own horror story created by parental favouritism and cloaked over the years by a conspiracy of secrets and lies.

In terms of the writing.  The story is related in a series of tales told by various characters along the way that eventually come together to create a bigger picture. The writing itself is really quite beautiful, but, at the same time, it took me a little while to get used to it and at first I found myself backtracking to discover the true meaning of the sentences. Again though, upon finishing the story I found myself loving the way Jennings uses such flowery terms to retell a story that is actually quite grim.  It all feels like a play on original fairy tales and the way they have adapted over the years to become more palatable tales to tell to children at bedtime.

The setting really plays into the mystery and is actually a little better described than the characters to be honest.  Small town, dilapidated, sun soaked, curtain twitchers, people with their own versions of stories that have become fantastical over the years taking on a life of their own.  There is a sinisterness to the place itself that really feeds into the strange gothic air being drawn here.

The characters are probably the most flawed part of Flyaway.  It’s difficult to latch onto any of them, they’re neither likable or unlikable really, although, again, this also reflects fairy tales to some extent.  I would say this is the one thing that was lacking for me and the biggest criticism  because I do love character focused stories where I can really latch onto someone.  In fact Bettina herself also felt a little strange to me.  I never really understood why she seemed to stumble through life as a pale reflection of herself.  Clearly, there was some kind of trauma that initiated her own amnesia but I think the reader is expected to join up quite a lot of the dots themselves in that respect.

In terms of criticisms.  Well, as mentioned, it took me a little while to get used to the style here and none of the characters really worked their magic on me.  I wouldn’t say that this would be a book for everyone, it has a real ‘marmite’ feel to it.  It won me over as the story progressed but if flowery writing, dissected fairy tale retellings and stories that really do need some teasing out to get to the real events are not your thing then be warned.  This once upon a time may not conclude happily ever after for all readers.

As it is, I enjoyed this and what I liked even more is the way it stayed with me afterwards and kept giving me further food for thought.

My rating for this keeps changing, sometimes it’s 3.5 and sometimes its 4 out of 5 stars.  I’m still undecided so in conclusion let’s say 3.5-4 shiny stars.

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy which I received through Netgalley.  The above is my own opinion.