By Belinda Castles Allen & Unwin

As he tilted the blinds she saw her mother in her tennis whites, standing at the kitchen bench, staring out into the dark bushland that bordered their houses. That was what Tricia did these days, looked into the bush as though it would attack one of them.

On a sweltering day in a cliff-top beach shack, Jack and Lou Bright grow suspicious about the behaviour of their charismatic, unpredictable father, Charlie. A girl they know has disappeared, and as the day unfolds, Jack’s eruptions of panic, Lou’s sultry rebellions and their little sister Phoebe’s attention-seeking push the family towards revelation.

Twenty years later, the Bright children have remained close to the cliff edges, russet sand and moody ocean of their childhood. Behind the beautiful surfaces of their daily lives lies the difficult landscape of their past, always threatening to break through. And then, one night in late summer, they return to the house on the cliff…

Belinda Castles

Belinda Castles won the Australian/Vogel’s literary award for The River Baptists in 2006 and was one of the Sydney Morning Herald’s Best Young Novelists in 2008. Her next novel, Hannah & Emil, won the Asher Literary Award. She has recently returned from teaching in the UK and is currently a lecturer in creative writing at the University of Sydney. Belinda lives with her husband and daughters on the Northern Beaches of Sydney.

Judges' report

Bluebottle is a dexterous, assured work of a rare kind: a literary novel with the mesmerising force of a thriller. Evocatively set on Sydney’s northern beaches, it swoops between past and present to trace the ramifications of an old tragedy. Charismatic, volatile Charlie Bright, the focal point of the novel, is obsessed with the disappearance of a schoolgirl to the mystification of his family. His wife and children alternate between bidding for Charlie’s approval and hoping to pass under his radar. Decades later, mysteries continue to trouble the Brights. Castles effortlessly maintains suspense over the course of her narrative, proof of her tremendous storytelling power.

The precision of Castles’ observations, her attentiveness to nature and her remarkable understanding of family dynamics make this novel outstanding. Central to Castles’ achievement is the formidable sense of menace she creates around Charlie, which brings The Man Who Loved Children to mind.

Further reading


‘Castles maintains an exquisite suspense that forces the reader to wonder about how many “facts” have been distorted by nostalgia. The characters, especially the siblings, feel authentically flawed and vulnerable and both timeframes are compelling, with each step into the past expertly adding another layer of complexity.’
Frances Atkinson, Sydney Morning Herald

‘Her flowing narrative, well-crafted characters and underlying dark suspense had me hooked until the last page.’
Robert Fairhead,