Review: Our Magic Hour by Jennifer Down - Are these the best years of your life?

Monday, 11 June 2018

Our Magic Hour by Jennifer Down
Released: 24th February 2016
Published by: Text Publishing Australia
Genre: Australian Fiction/Adult Contemporary
Source: Library
Pages: 274
My Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Audrey, Katy and Adam have been friends since high school—a decade of sneaky cigarettes, drunken misadventures on Melbourne backstreets, heart-to-hearts, in-jokes. But now Katy has gone. And without her, Audrey is thrown off balance: everything she thought she knew, everything she believed was true, is bent out of shape.

Audrey’s family—her neurotic mother, her wayward teenage brother, her uptight suburban sister—are likely to fall apart. Her boyfriend, Nick, tries to hold their relationship together. And Audrey, caught in the middle, needs to find a reason to keep going when everything around her suddenly seems wrong.

Evocative and exquisitely written, Our Magic Hour is a story of love, loss and discovery. Jennifer Down’s remarkable debut novel captures that moment when being young and invincible gives way to being open and vulnerable, when one terrible act changes a life forever.
This review also appears in Vertigo 2018: Growing Pains

Jennifer Down’s earnest debut captures the moment where the feeling of being carefree and indestructible is overcome by events uncovering deeper vulnerabilities we’d rather keep hidden. Our Magic Hour is a novel that anyone in their twenties will be able to relate to at some level. Within its pages are scenarios which speak of this euphoric decade so often exalted as ‘the best years of your life’, balanced with the inevitable apprehension of leaving your teenage self behind. Marked by a  tragedy which changes their friendship circle forever, the characters all discover how grief can spark a second coming-of-age, into a world that does not shine as brightly yet holds the smallest gleam of hope.

Later, when they were all adrift, Adam in his frenzied grief, Audrey had imagined she might have come across a signal or a clue. But Katy was a dark blur. She’d left no explanation, no notes, just an exhausting blackness that yielded no reason. She was an insect caught in amber, a leaf in resin. She’d never be anywhere but in the front seat of that car with its windows sealed.

Friends since high school, Audrey, Adam and Katy had been inseparable. Embracing the recklessness of youth, they’d shared each other’s secrets while nursing drinks in the offbeat bars lining Melbourne’s city streets, laughed at jokes nobody else would understand and lived life to the full in the present moment. As that dynamic is suddenly broken, Jennifer Down writes with notable insight of the gaping loss and confusion at losing someone you thought you’d understood, and the moral reckoning that follows. As young adults, we so often measure our value based on how much we matter to those around us, questioning whether the impact of our existence is truly realised. This idea is brought to the fore in a storyline that evocatively portrays the void created when a friend is gone forever. Told from Audrey’s perspective, Down takes readers on a journey that depicts not only the shattering reality that life will never be the same, but the fragile steps to mend the relationships that are left.

She was very alive at that moment. She felt her eyes wide and tired; she felt her body made of blood and bone and nerves and something else, something harder, like steel. She could have run for days.

This is a book that in true Australian form refuses to sugar-coat raw emotion. Yet while the plot unflinchingly bares the resulting strain in Audrey and her boyfriend Nick’s relationship alongside the worryingly erratic behaviour of her mother, it still captures life’s gentler moments. Our Magic Hour has been written in a way that tenderly explores how people evolve in these early years of adulthood, imagining the prospect of infinite possibilities which lay ahead despite the sadness of an old life left behind. For Audrey, nestled among the turbulence of moving to Sydney and involving herself in new social circles is the promise of renewal. Adulthood is a time of constant transformation, learning from the events which have shaped us and what it takes to face the world head-on. It’s rare to find a story that so accurately recognises these experiences, reinforcing that there is no single definition of normality, whether your sense of self has been tainted by grief or otherwise.


In all, Our Magic Hour is a memorable novel that knowingly illustrates the recklessness of youth curtailed by an unexpected drop into a new reality. In reading this you can’t help but realise that the adage ‘you’re only young once’ rings true. These years might not be perfect, but there is magic to be found in the memories of who you are today, and hopes for the person you could be tomorrow.

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