I opened Feast (Allen and Unwin 2023), the second novel by author Emily O’Grady, after the launch, expecting to read a few pages and return to it later, but I couldn’t put it down. It is exactly the kind of reflective, quiet, meditative, introspective, literary novel I love, with a deliciously creeping sense of menace and disquiet. Relationships, family dynamics, secrets, hidden desires, dysfunction – Feast has it all.

Feast centres on the preparations for Neve’s 18th birthday, a quiet affair where the young Australian woman has come to live for a year with her father, Patrick, in a suitably eerie and hauntingly unsettling Scottish mansion. Patrick is a once famous and still recognised musician with plenty of money and his partner Alison is an actress past her prime. The house belonged to Alison’s mother, Frances, who lived upstairs until she passed away relatively recently. Neve’s mother, Shannon, arrives from Australia for the celebration and there are various other characters, including Elixir (and yes, he did change his birth name), a teenager neighbour who lives with his father Gareth.

One of the striking aspects of this book is that each section is told from the perspective of one of the three main female characters, Neve, Alison and Shannon, in quite large chunks of text, so that for example, the story begins from Alison’s point of view and the reader is allowed a complex and introspective look at the situation and story from her perspective. Then when the POV shifts to Neve, two things become apparent: firstly, some events are retold in Neve’s voice and so are necessarily slightly different than how Alison has represented them, and secondly, the reader realises that not everything that Alison has referred to historically may be true. It’s not exactly an unreliable narrator scenario, but more that everyone has their own truth, everyone hides things or chooses not to reveal certain actions or motivations, and characters unleash their own feelings about others (even if only in their thoughts/heads but not spoken aloud). The same happens once Shannon narrates: we get a third perspective, often at odds with what we’ve come to believe as true from the voices of Alison and Neve. This nuanced and complicated telling of story is well-controlled, full of tension and conflict, mildly discombobulating and very interesting, confirming what we all know, that there is never one truth but many versions from different perspectives.

The house is evocative, atmospheric and ghostly, with the spectre of Frances metaphorically roaming the rooms. Her absence is a haunting presence. The depiction of landscape and environment is detailed, vivid and immersive. Feast voices dark and disturbing thoughts and actions that are usually kept hidden; each character says, does or thinks monstrous things that are uncomfortable to read about, strange and ugly, and yet completely compelling. The ending is unexpected in many ways, but then the whole story is full of small, unexpected moments, weird surprises, unsettling details that make the reader stop and think.

There is a subtle darkness to this book that reveals itself to the reader gradually, in tiny increments, as actions and thoughts are uncovered. We are lulled into thinking we know the characters a certain way and then disabused of that notion with small but crucial details.

O’Grady’s writing is controlled and lyrical. Feast will make you question your own innermost fears, desires and secret thoughts. A beautiful book.