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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

'The Comet Box' by Adrian Stirling

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

It's 1986 and Halley's Comet is hurtling towards Earth. Everyone is talking about what the comet will bring - wishes could be granted, people might go mad, great disasters could happen...

When Andrew is asked to write down his greatest wish for the Comet Box, he can think of only one thing – that his runaway sister Amelia will finally come home. As the comet draws nearer he begins to learn the reasons why she left in the first place and the more he learns, the more he wants to forget.

When Amelia is captured and brought home she reveals a shocking secret that makes Andrew's once safe world begin to unravel. As the comet arrives, Andrew must choose whether to be blind to the mistakes of the people around him or to side with his sister as she tears his family apart.

A few weeks before Halley’s Comet arrives, Andrew’s sister runs away from home. The only traces of her are angry words between his parents and a name written on the wall of her room; Samantha Collins.

In the wake of Amelia’s disappearance Andrew starts to notice the cracks in his family, as well as the literal and figurative fissures that run beneath his suburban street. A shopping complex is being built, Halley’s comet is hurtling towards earth and Andrew’s family is being propped up with thin lies and a crumbling facade.

‘The Comet Box’ is the new novel from Aussie author Adrian Stirling.

‘The Comet Box’ packs a surprising punch in the first chapter. Stirling kicks the mystery off quickly, and leaves readers with the writing on the wall; Samantha Collins. He really does a masterful job of ferreting into your brain and dragging you along this quietly powerful story . . .

The beginning is quietly explosive – a fight in the middle of the night, a runaway child and mysterious phone calls from the missing girl. Andrew wonders at the reasons for Amelia’s disappearance, and knows that the entire neighbourhood is likewise curious as to her whereabouts. But Andrew’s mother and father remain tight-lipped and doggedly optimistic that she will return.

Andrew begins to realize that everyone is in on his family’s secret, except him. But now that a niggling has started in the back of Andrew’s mind, he can’t seem to switch off the lies around him. There’s his blind neighbour, Ruby, who lives in squalor she can’t see. Mrs Warnock watches her young, handsome neighbour from her window while her husband is at work. His best friend, Romeo, is terrified of his brutish father and secretly wishes for his death. All these lies and veneers and still Andrew is none the wiser about the lies within his own life . . .

"She never really belonged here," added my mother who had appeared in the doorway behind him. Her arms were folded. I stared back at the glass of Milo.
My father shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "Listen," he said. "It's not your job to run around interfering in adult problems . . ."
I stopped stirring the Milo and looked at him.
"Nobody tells me anything," I said, "so I have to find it out for myself."
My father glanced up at my mother. They weren't sure what to do next.
"Everyone has their own secrets," said my mother, "and just because you know them doesn't mean that you understand."

And then Amelia returns. She comes home carrying the weight of betrayal on her shoulders and it’s only a matter of time until Andrew catches up to his family’s secret. Will the lies affect him the same way they did Amelia? Or will Andrew choose to live the lie in sweet oblivion?

‘The Comet Box’ is a quietly unassuming novel. There’s a lot happening, but it’s never overtly explosive or melodramatic. The drama in the novel is more like ripples than waves. The novel is quite complex, using meteoric metaphors and Electra Complex characterizations. But Stirling revels in writing between the lines, rather than knocking his readers over the head with the obvious. He is clearly a writer who likes readers to work, to draw their own conclusions about character motivations and denials, and for that I am very grateful. ‘The Comet Box’ is a far more satisfying read for what Stirling holds back.

Even the compelling secret that pushes the story along is sadly suburban. An all too common hush-hush that many families experience. The point of the secret is more that it triggers Andrews’ self-awareness; marks his transition from child to adult and his own, small, version of ‘paradise lost’ within his family unit.

I loved ‘The Comet Box’. It’s one of those books that I started reading and two hours later I was on the last page, somewhat gobsmacked at how easily I was suckered in and carried away. Adrian Stirling got under my skin with this suburban mystery that reads like a river – calm on the surface, but with a whirlpool amassing in its depths. This was an utterly compelling and fascinating read for its intricate storytelling and mundane exposé of suburban secrecy.



  1. aweosme review. i am going to do mine tonight and stop procrastinating (i am such a procrastinator...)

    i love the quote you include. the whole book is pretty much quotable, IMO :)

    x Nomes

  2. Briliant review! I could not agree more, this book was fantastic. I had such trouble writing my review because nothing I said could do it justice. Adrian really made me question why on earth I don't read Aussie fiction more often!

  3. This sounds great, I'm always on the look out for new Aussie work to read, thanks for bringing it to my attention!

  4. Great review - it sounds like another win for Aussie fiction!


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