Kathryn Gossow is a masterful storyteller who displays great insight and sensitivity in her handling of difficult themes. The result, her debut novel Cassandra, is an extraordinary and engaging coming of age tale.
“On a remote farm in Queensland, Cassie Shultz feels useless. Her perfect brother Alex has an uncanny ability to predict the weather, and the fortunes of the entire family hinge upon his forecasts. However, her own gift for prophecy remains frustratingly obscure. Attempts to help her family usually result in failure.
After meeting with her new genius neighbour Athena, Cassie thinks she has unlocked the secret of her powers. But as her visions grow more vivid, she learns that the cost of honing her gift may be her sanity.
With her family breaking apart, the future hurtles towards Cassie faster than she can comprehend it.”
There is much to love in this novel. The reader is enchanted from the opening scenes, of a very young Cassie playing where she isn’t meant to, under the house; of her encounter with a snake and the nightmare that follows; of her innocent curiosity. “A crackle of excitement pops in her belly. Like Coco-Pops when the milk first goes on.”
Through the early chapters, Cassie soon grows into a teenager, and it is this lonely, rebellious, confused girl eager to belong, who experiments with her own abilities in an attempt to understand them.
Cassandra is laced with evocative descriptions of rural Queensland. Gossow’s characterisations are convincing and her pacing measured. Early suspense shades into a textured exploration of clairvoyance, dreams, trance states and the predictive powers of Tarot, as Cassie tries to get a handle on her own inner powers; her friend, the ever doubtful Athena, egging her on. These moments are convincingly portrayed, never overplayed, each adding another dimension to the fabric of the paranormal. In this fashion, tinges of Jungian psychology and Greek mythology are blended seamlessly into a family drama.
Cassandra rises and flows, rises and flows, the reader held in a deep ocean swell. When the end of the novel is sensed on the horizon, this swell breaks into great waves that eventually deposit the reader on the shore of normality, somewhat transformed by the experience.
A novel with broad appeal, Cassandra is told in well-crafted, elegant prose. The reliance on simile to create a childlike atmosphere works well in my view. Think Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things.
Gossow’s literary skills shine in her portrayal of Cassie’s altered states of awareness. It is in these scenes that the author demonstrates much empathy, empathy needed in order to render authentic the inner experiences of the protagonist. In this aspect, I am reminded more of Madeleine Thien’s Booker-shortlisted Do Not Say We Have Nothing than I am Paula Hawkins’ bestselling The Girl on The Train. Through all of the numerous scenes of other-wordly introspection, Kathryn Gossow reveals a fine literary talent.
The reader is gifted a gem of a story in Cassandra. Highly recommended.