Spellbound by Catherine Robertson – 2021

A return to Gabriel’s Bay, and this time it is not a dog or a moose who welcomes and farewells us, but a cat, Brian. The local politicking around getting the tourist attraction Littleville off the ground is still the centre of concern, along with how to replace the Love Bus, which Mac Reid uses to ferry the elderly to Hampton once a week. But Spellbound is also about male insecurity, aggression, and vulnerability to suggestion, “The sensitive male ego had a lot to answer for”. But luckily Gabriel’s Bay has a formidable band of sisters, and some good blokes who support them, to tackle the growing problem.

Most of the characters in Spellbound are well known to those following the series: Sidney is still with Kerry, and she and Sophie (Jonty and Meredith Barton’s daughter) are now both heavily pregnant. Dr Ash is still besotted with Emma (Jacko and Mac’s daughter) and constantly worrying she will move on to a more exciting life. Barrett is living with salt-of-the-earth Vic on a farm, and he is struggling with how to be himself. And there is the irrepressible Mac, with her range of medical-prophylactic-advertising tote bags.  

When Ash becomes concerned about one of his patients, he discreetly asks for Patricia’s help, as she works with a women’s charity focused on domestic abuse. Patricia is shocked when Reuben, the child she and Bernard fostered for a while, is expelled from his primary school for showing up with a hunting knife. And Sidney is concerned about the behaviour of her eldest son, Aidan – is it related to his growing up, or has it something to do with his temporary martial arts instructor, Dale?

The book explores the dangers of online and offline recruitment of young boys into the spurious ideologies of the ‘disenfranchised and disrespected white male’, and the dangers of the remnants of the white patriarchy, those males who control and expect total obedience from their wives. The reaction to finding out about domestic abuse is varied, those on the outside asking, “Why didn’t she leave?”, those on the inside worrying why they didn’t see what was happening.

The arc of the novel is provided by the politics, the ongoing battle between Bernard and his nemesis on the Hampton Council, Elaine. Questions push the plot along, like who has made the anonymous donation that will solve Littleville’s problems? How will the new Chinese investor fit into the picture? And is recluse Magnus a secret white supremacist or a potential asset to the community? And as always, the children are respectfully portrayed, Reuben being entranced by The Hobbit, and Aidan stepping up when Sidney goes into labour.

Spellbound is funny and moving, and at times quite frightening – when Mac, Patricia and pregnant Sidney launch an intervention, things get tense when a rifle appears. There are poignant moments, such as when Bernard wants to reach out to comfort Patricia but finds himself incapable. And surreal ones, such as when Barrett, struggling with how to be gay in a predominantly straight environment, hesitates in a borrowed car, plucking up the courage to go out clubbing, and finds himself listening to Sondheim’s Send in the Clowns.

Spellbound is a treat to read, one that makes you laugh and makes you think. It can be read as a standalone, but if you haven’t read the previous two books in the series, Gabriel’s Bay and What you wish for, you should.

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