Book review: Gone, Glenna Thomson

A rural cold case of a missing girl and those grieving her absence.
Gone. On the left an author shot from the waist up of a middle aged Caucasian woman with short blonde hair and a black top, with gold hoop earrings. She is resting her chin on her left fist. On the right is a book cover depicting an isolated shack in the Australian outback, with a few trees, a few cows and some hills behind in the clouds.

Glenna Thomson’s third novel, Gone, depicts a heated family fight that turns into a cold case through the eyes of Eliza, the sister of a missing young woman. Set in rural Australia, where everyone knows your business, Gone compassionately highlights the trauma, the intrigue and the ambiguity of having a loved one go missing.

Gone is a novel that reads like a memoir. While Rebecca, her sister, goes missing when Eliza is aged 14, the novel follows her growing up, moving overseas and having her own daughter. Life in the home with two parents, both in the throes of their own miseries, is claustrophobic. But, as we see, it doesn’t last forever. Eliza’s life twists and turns, both towards and away from the central story: Rebecca is missing.

This twisting uncertainty embedded in the novel’s structure is woven in empathy with the experience of having a missing loved one. It isn’t clear to Eliza or to the reader what details are going to be important later down the track. Is the stranger at the show grounds a “person of interest”, or just a guy? Is there a link to Rebecca’s disappearance and the unspeakable crime that takes place in a local home soon after? What of the allegations against a much-loved teacher? Or of her secret boyfriend?

Is Rebecca dead, not dead? OK, or not OK? Is she missing because she chose to go to Queensland, the way she always talked about? Or did a violent character take her away? Are the reports they get about her, possible sightings, true or not? Twenty-five years after Rebecca’s disappearance, Eliza creates a Facebook page about the case. Will this lead to anything important, or will it be yet another dead end?

For Eliza, she moves away and forges her own life. But the loss is lingering. On her honeymoon, Eliza wonders what Rebecca’s life might be like, how strange that she doesn’t know she’s married. How strange that she wasn’t a bridesmaid. ‘No matter where I was or what I was doing – happy, sad, getting on with things – Rebecca’s absence was profound.’

Eliza’s brain keeps coming back to the question of Rebecca, even following women who look a bit like her, in case they are her. Her father is entrenched in the same searching journey, driving to Queensland, year after year. ‘Rebecca’s absence had defined us as a family.’

Read: Book review: Psykhe, Kate Forsyth

While sustaining intrigue about the case throughout the decades, Thomson’s writing also makes important space for the emotional lives of the people left wondering.

Gone, Glenna Thomson
Publisher: Penguin Random House

ISBN: 9781761345500
Pages: 320pp
Publication Date: 6 February 2024
RRP: $34.99

Erin Stewart is a Canberra-based freelance writer and researcher.