Then She Was Gone ~ Lisa Jewell
I waited three weeks after receiving this book before I turned even one page. Firstly because I knew I needed to have the time to read it all, not have any distractions or chores that needed to be done. Secondly because the environment for reading had to be just right; I romanticise the art of reading, it’s not just within the pages but all that is round me that makes it so pleasurable. So I took my book to a beach cottage on the Sussex coast. It was unseasonably warm for the time of year and I wolfed down the first half sitting amongst the sandy dunes of Camber, a cold beer within easy reach. In contrast the next morning I woke early, lit the fire and wrapped myself in a blanket as I lost myself again in the all consuming plot.
I’ve lost count of how many of Lisa’s books I’ve read, and unlike other writers I’ve never reached that point where I have felt I’ve read it all before. What remains the same is the skilful way she draws you in and keeps you there. Exciting plots and twists that never fail to surprise you. This book travels back and forth between present day and the past weaving a web of intrigue that keeps you hanging until the last pages. Gorgeous moments where what seemed like insignificant minor details become the crux of the delicious unravelling of the story.
The pain and heartache of the family as the reality of their daughter’s disappearance hits home is achingly poignant. To evoke these emotions in the reader one would find it impossible to believe that the author had not herself lived through these moments. Mum, dad, sister, boyfriend, all believable characters following what seem to be believable paths after a trauma of this kind, the not knowing and never finding resolution; coping in their own different ways, or not coping at all. Just existing. Despite the separation of the parents you can feel the strength of their bond as they learn to live apart, resenting, loving, hating, blaming, needing and rejecting each other.
Lisa, in her inimitable way, takes you on a rollercoaster journey of emotions. You can feel the panic, the fear, the desperation for closure. All of these feelings are cleverly wrapped up in a mystery where the layers are peeled away in the same way as the characters are outlined and then filled in to create such a solid body of work at genius level. Keep them coming Lisa, you deserve your place up there with the rest of the bestsellers.
I Found You ~ Lisa Jewell
Some time ago I came across my first book by Lisa Jewell, Before I Met You, I remember how much I enjoyed it, and am now ashamed it has taken me so long to read another one of her books. I’m also slightly behind the times as Jewell has a new book out, Then She Was Gone, which is set to be number one in The Sunday Times bestseller list this week. About time an all, 18 years and 15 books, long overdue.
I’m not going to give you a summary of the plot; you need the pleasure of it unfolding before you without prejudice. What I will tell you is every character is brought to life and jumps off the page at you. Jewell has an incredible talent for drawing you in, quickly forming an attachment to the cast of players. Her language paints a thousand pictures until you are living inside the story. A fantastic thriller, not a disappointing chapter, or even page in sight. Twists and turns moving the story forward in such a way you have to keep on reading; one of those rare times you want to get to the end but you aren’t ready to leave the characters behind. Forget the housework, the kids can feed themselves, a real page turner. I’m excited to start the next book now.
The Perfect Stranger – P. j. Kavanagh
‘’The Perfect Stranger’’ was originally published in 1966, this edition 50 years on hasn’t lost any of its charm or appeal. Intended as a memorial, ‘…made out of bits and pieces lying around me, bits of myself, all I had to bring her. Or rather it’s part of it’, in the foreward added to the 1991 edition Kavanagh is appalled that his book should have been so widely categorised as an autobiography and states that if he had known that would happen he would have stopped writing at once. To me this attitude is an early indication to the personality and character of Kavanagh. His journey highlights how disaffected, withdrawn, and isolated he is from the world around him with an arrogance and cynicism that goes beyond the petulance of his teenage years.
Do not be fooled by the sub title ‘A Memoir of Love and Survival’ , although it does draw us in to a passionate, deep and emotional relationship that Kavanagh has with his first wife, Sarah Phillips (Sally), we don’t meet her until page 132 of a 212 page book. What is most important is getting to know him in such a way that when he does fall madly, deeply and intensely in love we understand clearly the depth of this relationship and what it means to him.
Kavanagh has kept to his word bringing us this story from the bits and pieces lying around him, it highlights the most significant and interesting parts of his life without the need for padding with the other bits in between. Starting with an overview of the beginning of his life where we meet his parents and are offered an insight into where it is he has come from in order to understand where it is he goes on this journey.
Kavanagh was perfectly happy at home, the centre of his Mother’s universe, until he was sent away to boarding school where he was very unhappy. It was here that he developed ‘a paranoid attitude to authority’ . Concerned about Kavanagh, possibly to counteract a snobbism he saw emerging, he sent him to work as a red coat at Butlins Holiday Camp. As you can imagine we are entertained with a variety of experiences he had during his time as a holiday ‘Uncle’. It is the first of many events that we begin to see how Kavanagh does not particularly excel at much he does or goes on to do. He does, however, pluck up the courage to phone his Father and inform him that he has no intention of going back to boarding school. His Father puts up little resistance, but decides to send him to school in Switzerland for his last year.
Kavanagh’s writing is very accessible, his memoir is timeless, the journey is powerful. As he says in the foreward he allows us a glimpse at the healing laughter below the surface, from Butlins to Switzerland, the Korean War to love in the most unusual of places. He makes us laugh, and cry, with such simple but poetic prose. He describes characters by the way they made him feel rather than their physical characteristics, this works well, I could see them clearly thanks to the way Kavanagh so early on shares his inner most thoughts of himself and the people in his world.
If you love memoirs, especially ones about great literary artists of our time then ‘’My Father’s Places: A portrait of childhood by Dylan Thomas’ daughter’’ by Aeronwy Thomas, is a highly recommended good read.
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Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?
by Jeanette Winterson
In 1985 Jeanette Winterson brought us solid gold with ‘Oranges are not the Only Fruit’, a cocktail of fiction and real life experiences. If you are a fan of this incredibly brave and remarkably strong lady you will not be disappointed with ‘Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?’ Unlike ‘Oranges’ it strips Winterson’s life right down to the bare bones.
We follow Winterson’s journey of self-discovery as she battles against all the odds, trapped within the confines of her adopted family life. A life of physical and psychological abuse. Here she battles with her own identity, coming to terms with her sexuality and her ever increasing desire to find her birth mother. Winterson is able to amuse us with anecdotes of her adopted mother, a bible bashing, god fearing, good living woman. As a mere observer, as emotionally attached as we may become, we cannot help but laugh out loud at some of the behaviour of the woman, even though it would have impacted greatly on Jeanette as a vulnerable child. For Mrs Winterson Marks & Spencer is where the Jews who killed Christ resided, Woolworths was a den of vice and on passing a funeral parlour announced that it shared an oven with the pie shop next door. Winterson allows us to laugh at these things as she gives us more insight into her life and mother, offering us a little light relief from the intensity and emotion of an otherwise harrowing journey.
As a writer Winterson builds up our trust, allowing us to connect and sympathise, joining her fight along with her in the hope of a resolution, and she bravely exposes her inner most thoughts to enable this to happen. We witness her coming of age as she comes to terms with her sexuality in an environment of revulsion at the possibilities that she may well be a lesbian. But it’s ok, an exorcism should soon sort that one out. This is harrowing to consider anyone has been through anything like this, but Winterson encourages us to cheer her on as she shows us her dogged determination to escape this life of imposed ”normality”. in her quest for happiness instead.
I particularly enjoyed the abundance of literary references throughout the book and will, therefore, offer up two of my own. If you are a fan of literature that entertains with tales of the Authors’ misery and squalor of their childhoods look no further than, ‘Angela’s Ashes’, Frank McCourt (1996) and ‘Once in a House on Fire’, Andrea Ashworth (1998).