18 August 2022

Review: Hydra by Adriane Howell

Hydra by Adriane Howell book cover

* Copy courtesy of Transit Lounge *

Hydra by Melbourne based author Adriane Howell is set on the Victorian peninsula in an area I was once quite familiar with. Our main character Anja is an antiques dealer working in the Mid Century Modern Department for Geoffrey Browne Auction House. 

I was intrigued by the goings on in the auction world of antiques and in particular Anja's desire to classify objects based on their emotional responses.

The author had me on page 3 with Anja's description of her work:
"It was a thrill finding an object hidden for generations and unearthing its narrative. Who had dusted it, lounged in it, held on to it with a false sense of duty? And for how many decades had it sat in the one room, absorbing years of cheer and anguish that left stains even the most skilled carpenter couldn't sand away?" Page 3
This period in Anja's life is short lived though as she unexpectedly blows up her career in a gesture that actually made me gasp out loud. This isn't a spoiler, and when I read about it in the blurb I assumed there was going to be a theft or fraud or something of that nature, but no. You'll NEVER guess how she actually ends up losing her job and it's probably my favourite moment of the book.

Moving on, Anja flees the city and uses the last of her mother's inheritance to enter into a 100 year lease on an isolated cottage located in a reserve belonging to the Department of Defence. If you're thinking this peninsula setting sounds a lot like HMAS Cerberus, you'd be right. I actually spent a month living on base during my training as an Officer in the Navy and I really enjoyed the setting as a result. The inclusion of Navy reports interspersed throughout the novel were interesting but did provide additional context.

The author's prose and descriptions of the nature reserve and the wildlife were evocative and occasionally gave me pause:
"The bush was like a rococo relief: scrolling and curvaceous, dramatic and untamed." Page 165
We learn the cottage has been vacant for some time and requires a clean out and makeover; one of my favourite story arcs. I was rooting for Anja to begin to get her life back on track in the new rural surrounding but things don't quite go to plan. Snatches of Anja's backstory are drip fed into the narrative, leaving the reader to decide for themselves if the protagonist is becoming unhinged or not.

Strange things start to happen around the cottage, and on the whole, I didn't like many of Anja's choices and actions. This reminded me of The Girl on The Train by Paula Hawkins when the protagonist acted against my advice despite my shouting at the page. Don't you hate it when characters refuse to listen?

This debut novel is full of suspense and slowly reels you in. The sheer isolation and slow unravelling of Anja's career and personal life made for a tense and suspenseful read.

Fortunately these moments were broken up by a few lighter moments like this:
"If Beth were a Wegner chair she would be a PP250 Valet - practical to a fault. That's why I didn't tell her about the porch poo." Page 83
If you're rushing off to Google the Wegner chair to see what it looks like, you're in good company. I did the same.

Hydra definitely straddles a few genres, and I'm not sure if I would call this literary horror, as there isn't much blood/gore. However, it certainly has a dark undertone and sense of spiralling dread about what's going to happen, putting me in mind of some literary horror novels I've read in the last 12-18 months. The ending wasn't what I was hoping for, but it was in keeping with the genre and true to the character, so there is that.

Nevertheless, Hydra is a solid debut by Melbourne based author Adriane Howell, and I can't wait to see what she writes next. I suspect this is just the beginning of a promising career.

My Rating:

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