Australian author Cassandra Austin coincidentally shares her name with author Jane Austen’s sister albeit with a slight spelling variation. Like Jane’s sister Cassandra is an artist too, but instead of paints, her words paint vivid landscapes and complex characters.
I spoke to Cassandra recently about her gothic novel ‘All Fall Down’ in which she paints a surreal outback landscape which is in contrast to the traditional gothic novel, that of the big house peopled with secrets and doors slammed shut. Instead Cassandra’s book is gothic, transplanted to Australia’s sometimes threatening landscape of vast unexplored spaces, think ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ rather than the containment of a big house.
Even the outback backdrop still ironically has seemingly closed doors, those of unwelcoming neighbours with their houses underground, dormant, simmering, waiting to erupt.
Such an eruption occurs in the opening pages when one of the protagonists Janice trapped in an unhappy marriage with a secret love, drives on the bridge. Craving concealment she flicks off her headlights but of course to no avail as the bridge is fully illuminated putting a spotlight on her, like the watching eyes of her neighbours. When the bridge falls It is almost as if the bridge collapses in sympathy with Janice’s collapsing emotional state. The bridge symbolic of the broken connections of the town’s folk.
The town comprises a host of characters representative of a rich demographic or as Cassie says it has ‘something for everyone’. There is the mature town gossip attempting to cement a long time love, and in contrast a teenager coming of age with her first infatuation. Other characters include the teenager’s uncle, a priest and a quasi, prophet like figure preaching sacrifice.
All Fall Down by Cassandra Austen is out now published by Penguin Random House.