The Beautiful Words
by Vanessa McCausland
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Pub Date 01 Dec 2021 | Archive Date 23 May 2022
HarperCollins Publishers Australia, HarperCollins AU
Two best friends, one summer night, and twenty years of silence ... what happened at the lighthouse?
The stunning, haunting new novel from the author of The Lost Summers of Driftwood.
Sylvie is a lover of words and a collector of stories, only she has lost her own. She has no words for that night at the lighthouse when their lives changed forever. What happened to cleave her apart from her best friend and soulmate, Kase?
Sylvie yearns to rekindle their deep connection, so when Kase invites her to the wild Tasmanian coast to celebrate her 40th birthday, she accepts - despite the ghosts she must face.
As Sylvie struggles to find her feet among old friends, she bonds with local taxi boat driver Holden. But he is hiding from the world, too.
Through an inscription in an old book, Sylvie and Kase discover their mothers have a history, hidden from their daughters. As they unpick what took place before they were born, they're forced to face the rift in their own friendship, and the question of whether it's ever okay to keep a secret to protect the person you love.
Vanessa McCausland's enthralling new novel is about betrayal and forgiveness, the stories we tell, and the healing power of words.
'This evocative novel completely captivated me and I didn't want it to end. Vanessa McCausland is a remarkable storyteller.' Petronella McGovern
'Vanessa McCausland doesn't disappoint! Lyrical and evocative, the trauma and emotion rises off the pages along with the salt spray and the haunting cries of the eagles.' Fiona Lowe
'McCausland's poetic writing makes the heart sing. Graceful and glorious.' Alexandra Joel
'Reading a Vanessa McCausland book is like indulging in fine dark chocolate - her writing is decadent, dark, complex and luxurious. In this book she takes her lyricism to a new level, reveling in the power of words and stories to both heal and harm.' Cassie Hamer
'Rich with atmosphere and moral conflicts, The Beautiful Words sensitively explores the intricacies of two generations bound by secrets, with McCausland's trademark, hauntingly lyrical prose. It's a gifted storyteller that keeps me up way past my bedtime, but once again, I found myself unable to put Vanessa McCausland's novel down.' Maya Linnell
'Intriguing ... The Beautiful Words is a compelling story in a uniquely Australian setting for fans of Hannah Richell or Emily Bitto.' Books + Publishing
'Breathtaking ... Rich with atmosphere and written in haunting, melodic prose, The Beautiful Words is a powerful and timely work of fiction that celebrates the importance of female friendship and women's voices. Ultimately, though, it is a tale of healing, and a love letter to words and the power of storytelling.' Better Reading
'A clever and wonderful book' Herald Sun
'McCausland is a natural storyteller' Herald Sun
'Intriguing ... The Beautiful Words is a compelling story in a uniquely Australian setting for fans of Hannah Richell or Emily Bitto.' Books + Publishing
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 22 members
The Beautiful Words is the third book I've read by Australian author Vanessa McCausland and probably my favourite to date.
All three books consider complex issues and draw on themes around family and friendships, around hopes and aspirations as well as discontentment and regret.
This book unfolds in three timeframes though much of the focus is on Sylvie and Kase - in the past and present. We learn their childhood friendship was that of kindred spirits. As soul friends...
And this theme of friendships - their strength and fragility - is also reflected in a third timeline. One long before Sylvie and Kase were born.
"But sometimes it is friendship that is our true life calling, our true soul connection. You two have that soul connection, I see it plain as the nose on my face. These are eternal and rare and mystical and as such they burn the brightest. Most of our relationships, even very loving ones are revealed to be only temporary. Soul connections are forever." p 218
Ultimately this story however is about secrets and lies. We're given snippets of the events of 1996 (in the lead-up to and aftermath of) the tragedy that changed Sylvie and Kase's lives forever. Of course, at the heart of this story is how it impacted on their lives.
Sylvie knows she's living a 'small' life and though it's by choice, there's still a sense of resentment towards her old friends who've moved on. Perhaps there's a sense of irony in the way her lost memories are protecting her, but at the same time stopping her from truly living life.
The present here is playing out against a backdrop of grief. Although Kase's brother died over two decades earlier that sense of loss is very strong. And we're introduced to Holden who lost his own teenage daughter and is struggling to endure life, after...
Although McCausland offers us a great cast of characters and - ultimately a number of twists to the secrets being kept - the strength for me here is in her writing.
We're told that Sylvie loves words and she jots down words that she wants to remember or hold onto - particularly given the memory issues she has. McCausland intersperses the book with definitions - both common words or those that relate to the plot in some way.
"Lilo (n.) - a friendship that can lie dormant for years only to pick right back up instantly, as if no time had passed since you last saw each other." p 55
Vanessa McCausland has delivered her third book The Beautiful Words and I believe it is her best to date. I was drawn into this story from the first chapter, the writing style is a bingeable one and being set over 3 timelines it keeps the reader on their toes.
The Beautiful Words follows the story of best friends Sylvie and Kase and their friendship from its inception to present day. There are lies, torment and tragedy as you are drip feed the backstory from the other timelines to tie everything together, and we begin to understand why Sylvie uses words as a coping mechanism to keep herself grounded after a trauma in her life. As the details of this trauma unravel you can see the significant role the words have played in her journey and the depth of Sylvie’s despair.
There is so much more than the relationship of Sylvie and Kase, it is a book of love, loss and heartache that lets enough sun shine through to remind you of the true value of friendship. This book delivers on every level and will keep you engrossed in the story until the last word is read, a truly beautiful book and one I highly recommend – 5 big stars from me!
Thank you to Netgalley for this early reading copy I absolutely loved it!
Set in the present time and the 1990’s and 1960’s. Mostly on an Island near Tasmania.
This was about best friends torn apart by tragedy.
Sylvie enjoys her life. She works on her own cleaning houses of people who have died. Packing up and removing unwanted possessions deemed as junk. Sylvie is fascinated by the hidden stories she finds and writes her discoveries in her notebook. I loved the line on page 4 – “What does anyone know about their grandmother’s mother?” It made me think about my family history.
In one house Sylvie discovers notes in a journal where the owner had regretted spending her lifetime without her best friend. The notes in the journal remind Sylvie of her loss and regrets of her lost friendship with Kase and the tragedy that separated them. A letter inviting Sylvie to Kase’s 40th birthday celebration could help if only Sylvie can respond. Sylvie and Kase had not seen each other for 23 years. As teenagers they had been best friends, sharing a love of literature and writing.
Sylvie is hesitant about attending the party after so many years without contact but decides to travel to a private Island off the Tasmanian coast.
Sylvie and Kase resume their friendship but there are other friends at the birthday celebration that make things difficult for Sylvie.
This was about friendships, grief, and secrets.
Secrets. Lies. Intimidation.
Vanessa’s new novel The Beautiful Words is a wonderfully written story, a true delight, and one that will keep you reading well past your bedtime.
This is a story that will captivate you, as you read more about the characters are revealed and you will find yourself second guessing almost everything by the end.
I was forever jumping a head in my mind, thinking I knew what was coming, but not once was I right. Vanessa was definitely too clever with her plot than anything I was imagining.
I really enjoyed the setting of the story, who doesn’t love a Tassie based location, maybe I am a bit biased, but the setting was perfect.
The characters were well written, and I really loved the connections that were revealed within the split timeline of the story.
Beautiful writing! Sylvie is middle aged, lives alone in Sydney, and works as a sort of cleaner, clearing out the houses of deceased people. She suffered a traumatic head injury 23 years earlier in an accident where her best friend, Kase’s brother, Tristan died. Kase visited Sylvie in hospital once and then cut all contact with her until now, Sylvie receives an invitation to her fortieth birthday party in Tasmania.
Sylvie is damaged from that experience, even though she cannot actually remember the accident and the events leading up to it and it’s a tough decision for her to attend the party. What follows was such a brilliant read. The location is a small island near Bruny Island, it’s atmospheric, rugged with wild weather. The story is an exploration of friendship and secrets and lies. It travels back in time to the girls friendship in 1996(the time of the accident) and also the teenage friendship between their mothers in 1967. The characters are well written and I enjoyed how the story built slowly until the terrible events are revealed. [Definite parallels between recent events in Australia with historic rape accusations against powerful males (hide spoiler)] The importance of listening to women and supporting each other, I found it quite emotional reading the latter chapters. Another part of the book that adds a lot of richness to it is all the literary references as Sylvie is a big reader, she and Kase always wanted to be writers, now only Kase has achieved it. Bookshops, writing, reading, words and their meanings and particularly The Catcher in the Rye and The Bell Jar are all important elements. A powerful read.
‘… the heaving bookshelves … which told her whole story, in the way that books map one’s internal journey through the world. She had tried to part with some of them, but it felt like giving away pieces of her soul.’
I loved this book. I feel more in tune with who I am having read this book. The ‘beautiful’ words from this book will stay with me forever.I started reading Beautiful Words on my Kindle but such is the nature of this tale - how it speaks to the heart of every book lover - I quickly had to buy a paperback (in actual fact, my daughter got it for me as she realised the connection I was forming with this book) so that I could fully immerse myself in the experience though highlighting and creating tabs of the wondrous experience that Vanessa provides her readers with in this unforgettable tale.
Vanessa wrote an article on the HarperCollins website (HERE) that shines a light on her own motivation and other similar books she has read that were based around a love of words. She was thrilled to finally gift us her book about books. With a main character who is a logophile (a lover of words) it's ironic and sad how she has lost her own story. ‘It’s a story about the stories we tell ourselves, the fallible nature of memory, and the power of words to heal.’ (Vaness McCausland)
‘She slipped a few books out, smoothing their worn covers, their browning pages, wondering about the others who had read them, the tea that might have been drunk over them. How their stories may have shaped their readers’ lives.’
I have read and loved all Vanessa’s previous books but her latest offering demonstrates how her writing has gone to the next level. In the lead character, Sylvie, you will find a friend. Vanessa’s ‘beautiful’ words exemplify such exquisite use of language that it is intoxicating (thus the necessary tabbing for future reference). Yes, there is a wonderful tale full of mystery, there is romance and there are locales so vividly described as to lose yourself in. Overarching are themes ranging from fate and fortune, to abuse and heartbreak. The nod to literary classics from Salinger (The Catcher in the Rye) and Plath (The Bell Jar) will have you making your own investigations to cement links made.
Reading this novel is to partake in a love story … a love story in celebration of words. The title could not be more apt. Vanessa has penned the ultimate indelible tale, equally compelling and tragic. You may wish to savour the words but these words will carry you along with a force of their own. Thank you Vanessa for writing a book that I felt such a connection to - there are not enough ‘beautiful’ words to convey just how much I loved this book.
‘I want to believe that there are more lives for us. But maybe that’s why we have books. Don’t you ever find it sad that you’re confined to your own story? That your life is bounded by your mind inside your own head?’
This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.
Oh my god. I couldn't put this book down. Loved reading this book as I wanted to know more. Vanessa McCausland is an author to watch out for.
THE BEAUTIFUL WORDS is the third book I have read by Vanessa McCausland, and I enjoyed every one of them. In her latest books, she once again creates a beautiful, atmospheric Australian setting (this time in Tasmania) and complex characters whose relationships appear authentic and moving. As with her other books, THE BEAUTIFUL WORDS touched my heart as each character has to overcome their own struggles. And like in THE LOST SUMMERS OF DRIFTWOOD, the story revolves around the themes of friendship, family secrets, grief, reinventing yourself and ultimately healing and hope.
Readers who love the theme of female friendships in all its complexity will be pleased with McCausland’s portrayal of Sylvie and Kase, best friends at school and soul sisters, until a tragedy tore them apart. Now, over twenty years later, the friends meet again for Kase’s 40th birthday celebrations on a small Tasmanian island near Bruny. To repair the rift that cleaved their worlds apart, they must first face up to the truth of what happened when they were just teenagers ....
I love the way the author portrays her female protagonists, endowing each with a rich history that makes them relatable in many ways and gives them unique, multi-layered personalities as with people you meet in real life. And whilst the author has taken a theme that is very relevant today and close to her heart, you will find no preaching or lecturing here, just a gentle tug on your conscience and your heartstrings as she takes you by the hand and leads you down the path of her story with all the tumultuous emotions connected to it. Set in three different timelines – the 1960’s, 1990’s and today, three generations of women are linked by a secret that will have far reaching effects on all of them.
THE BEAUTIFUL WORDS transcends multiple genres: part mystery, part drama, there is also a light sprinkling of romance, leaving the reader with a sense of hope and light despite the dark themes explored here. McCausland is a talented storyteller who knows how to bring her characters and her settings to life with language that flows a smoothly and gently like the waves lapping against the beaches in her story, which made it a real treat to read. This book will appeal to readers who enjoy contemporary books centred around female friendships and family secrets that linger in your mind and heart long after the last page has been turned.
The title of this book is very appropriate. Beautiful words. This is a story of love, friendship, family, tragedy and betrayal.
The connection between Sylvie and Kase is captured so well and had you desperate to discover why their friendship had disintegrated. I really enjoyed this book and look forward to reading more from Vanessa McCausland.
#TheBeautifulWords #VanessaMcCausland #netgalley
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