Shelter by Catherine Jinks

Publisher/Year: Text Publishing/2021

Publisher description

Meg lives alone: a little place in the bush outside town. A perfect place to hide. That’s one of the reasons she offers to shelter Nerine, who’s escaping a violent ex. The other is that Meg knows what it’s like to live with an abusive partner.

Nerine is jumpy and her two little girls are frightened. It tells Meg all she needs to know where they’ve come from, and she’s not all that surprised when Nerine asks her to get hold of a gun. But she knows it’s unnecessary. They’re safe now.

Then she starts to wonder about some little things. A disturbed flyscreen. A tune playing on her wind chimes. Has Nerine’s ex tracked them down? Has Meg’s husband turned up to torment her some more?

By the time she finds out, it’ll be too late to do anything but run for her life.

Reviewer: Moraig Kisler

After finishing Catherine Jinks’s The Attack, I tracked down her other novels. After reading Shelter, my loathing of wind chimes is unquestionably justified. Jinks has the knack of imbuing simple objects with a sinister weight.

Meg Lowry’s isolated property in New South Wales ‘the Bolt Hole’ is still within reach of her abusive ex-husband who continues to torment Meg from afar. Good Samaritan, Meg is part of a clandestine network dedicated to sheltering victims of domestic abuse. She’s committed to taking in Nerine and her two young children until suitable accommodation is found for the family. Nerine’s terror that her husband will discover the family’s hiding place escalates and soon infects Meg (and the reader).

Shelter is not an easy read: domestic abuse (both physical and verbal), controlling behaviour and violence against animals. But it is certainly a novel for current times with the escalating rate of family violence.

Nerine and her children display signs of severe trauma, particularly seven-year-old daughter Annaliese who is silent and withdrawn. Meg introduces the children to her beloved dog and chickens in an attempt to distract their thoughts. Fear for the children is at the heart of the novel, and Jinks builds this tension to the conclusion.

Shelter abounds with twists and turns, and just when the tension eases off, something unexpected and terrifying explodes from the page. At times the characters’ motivations when analysed rationally don’t make sense. But the cracking pace of Shelter drives the story with scant time to delve into the characters’ reasoning. At times Shelter is terrifying, with an unexpected ending which, in my view, is both touching and apt.

Shelter is a pacey psychological thriller. A warning for the faint-hearted – do not read Shelter when home alone at night.