[This novel has been longlisted for the 2012 Miles Franklin Award.]
From the publisher's page:
Thea Farmer, a reclusive and difficult retired school principal, lives in isolation with her dog in the Blue Mountains. Her distinguished career ended under a cloud over a decade earlier, following a scandal involving a much younger male teacher. After losing her savings in the financial crash, she is forced to sell the dream house she had built for her old age and live on in her dilapidated cottage opposite. Initially resentful and hostile towards Frank and Ellice, the young couple who buy the new house, Thea develops a flirtatious friendship with Frank, and then a grudging affinity with his twelve-year-old niece, Kim, who lives with them. Although she has never much liked children, Thea discovers a gradual and wholly unexpected bond with the half-Vietnamese Kim, a solitary, bookish child from a troubled background. Her growing sympathy with Kim propels Thea into a psychological minefield. Finding Frank's behaviour increasingly irresponsible, she becomes convinced that all is not well in the house. Unsettling suspicions, which may or may not be irrational, begin to dominate her life, and build towards a catastrophic climax.
Felicity Plunkett for "The Australian": "The novel revolves around transgression. At school, Thea has been powerful and controlling, yet ultimately destroyed by a charismatic and manipulative young male teacher. Duigan examines the operations of power within schools and teachers' subsequent loss of that automatic authority in retirement, something exacerbated, in Thea's case, by the humiliation and guilt she experiences. This guilt, which relates to having let down her guard with the younger teacher, stays with Thea and shadows her interaction with her new neighbours. She is determined never to be vulnerable again and to avoid a similar mistake...The beauty of mistakes, though, lies in their infinite variety. Watching as Thea avoids one mistake and lurches into another is compelling. Duigan's gorgeously evoked Blue Mountains landscape made me think of the vertiginous Scenic Railway at Katoomba. Once you're locked in, its incline -- the steepest of any railway in the world -- lies ahead, impossible to avoid."
Karen on the "AustCrime" weblog: "This is most definitely not a book for readers who like events declared right up front, and investigations and resolutions with everything neat, tidy and answered at the end. It's not even a book that declares a "crime" or a problem blatantly, although I suppose it might be possible to take an educated guess at where we could be heading, if you have the time, or the inclination to want to try to double guess the author. But it's really not that sort of a book. THE PRECIPICE is very much a psychological thriller, moving seamlessly from the resentful mutterings of a grumpy old woman, through the development of a cessation of hostilities rather than friendship with the young girl, to a minefield of responsibility and dilemma. There's the odd stutter and stumble along the way - they could be plot vagaries, they could equally be the vagaries of a tricky narrator...The book is undoubtedly one of those slow burn, sleeper type thrillers. "
You can read an extract from the novel.