Published: 1st April 2021
Chloe hasn’t had an easy life. As a child growing up in care she has had her fair share of being pulled from one place to another, never really knowing where home was. At least now she lives with her Nan, but she is struggling with the constant demands of Nan’s dementia. Sometimes she is torn between being at home for Nan and going to work. We meet her as they take a visit to the graveyard to leave flowers for Chloe’s mother. Chloe has to leave Nan by the grave to clean out the container for flowers. She is only gone a few moments, but when she gets back Nan is nowhere to be seen. Chloe frantically searches the cemetery, the copse behind the graves but she knows in the pit of her stomach this is it. If she calls the police because she has lost Nan they will alert social services. Nan’s social worker is pleased that Chloe wants to look after her Nan, but feels that the job is proving too much for someone working full time. She has been pushing for Nan to move into a home and Nan’s disappearance has made the argument for this even more compelling. While working she finds the story of a young girl who went missing from a playground and becomes fascinated with the case. Angela Kyle was at the park and disappeared while her father was distracted. Now she would be the same age as Chloe. As Nan is found and social services intervene, Chloe finds that the home they have recently shared will be sold for care fees. She then loses her job for taking the Kyle archive off the premises. Feeling totally adrift, Chloe wonders if she could be of help to the Kyle family. Maybe with her research she could help them find Angie.
Chloe work in the archives seems to take place at a similar time to when I was working for my local newspaper. A time when old-fashioned jobs like those who worked the printing press were being made redundant. I remember the warm, print smell in the afternoons and the smell of our archive, complete with a severe looking librarian who spent all day painstakingly cutting out and filing stories, and lending them out begrudgingly, as if she was lending her children! I remember our printing press being shut down. I remember the archive becoming digital. I used to sell advertising space then sit and design the advert on A4 requests with invoice slips attached. A man would collect them once a day and physically drive them to our art department who would magically turn them into adverts that appeared in features. Then it all became digital. I guess this gave me a way into the story, and a sense of what Chloe did and how it feels when your job is defunct. However, for Chloe it’s her whole purpose gone at once since she’s no longer her Nan’s carer. She visits the home, but Nan is only there sometimes and often protests she doesn’t have a granddaughter. I could feel Chloe’s sense of being adrift, without anything to anchor her.
She visits the fenland village where Maureen and Patrick Kyle now live. It is in the middle of nowhere, and their house is even outside the tiny hamlet set down a long drive. I live in Lincolnshire and can appreciate the endless flat fields and open sky, being able to see for miles and at night a huge expense of stars. By coincidence she sees an ad in the village shop for a lodger in the Kyle’s home. What better way to get to know the Kyles and try to solve the mystery? She can also solve the problem of losing her home. So she moves in with Maureen and Patrick and starts to get to know them, being honest about her past in care and her Nan, but not letting on that she knows about their daughter. She pretends to work in insurance and takes the bus every day into town, sometimes visiting Nan and other times visiting the playground where Angie went missing. However, lies are often found out and Chloe hasn’t fully thought through the implications of finding out the truth.
It was very hard to get to know Chloe and find out who she truly was, despite being party to her thoughts and feelings. I wondered if she was suffering borderline personality disorder, often categorised as a lack of cohesive self. She certainly fits the pattern and came from the type of disordered background that can lead to this type of mental illness. She was certainly exhibiting impulsive behaviour that she hadn’t fully thought through and formed intense but unstable relationships with others. Her friend Hollie, who had also gone through the care system, seemed like the only constant in her life. Although at times even she struggled to understand Chloe’s motivations and behaviour. I felt that the author treated Chloe’s behaviour sensitively and honestly. As Maureen started to behave in a motherly way towards Chloe, she responded like a daughter, possibly because this was the type of maternal affection that had always been missing from her life. This meant that she humoured the use of a special ‘Bunnikins’ plate and small cutlery for her at teatimes, where maybe someone else might have asked for something different. The pair bond very quickly, but she doesn’t cultivate the same bond with Patrick who seems to ask a lot of questions or Maureen’s friend Josie who seems suspicious of her presence. Chloe listens out for clues and finds Patrick slightly overbearing with his wife. They do have rows which she tries to listen to, but they also have a padlocked room that has no explanation.
The tension ratchets up slowly, starting as Patrick asks questions about where she works and Chloe getting a glimpse of what is hidden in the locked room. As she edges closer to the truth, she is in danger of being expelled from her new home or if someone in the house is responsible for Angie’s disappearance, could she be in serious danger? The need to know what had happened all those years before became addictive and I read the last chapters quickly and greedily! I was also fascinated by the dynamic building between Chloe and Maureen, who starts to suspect that Chloe might be her daughter. All the love and longing this mother has had for her missing girl starts to be lavished on Chloe and what’s so sad is that this is exactly what she has needed her whole life. There’s a point where the scales start tipping and I wondered if Chloe was starting to believe there could be some truth in it. She doesn’t remember her earliest years, so could she be Angie? Patrick goes along with this fiction, he doesn’t want to see his wife grieving another ‘daughter’ but he is uncomfortable and I started to wonder if he knew more than he was letting on. The ending when it comes is not sensational, but is sad, human and utterly tragic. However, there is another revelation coming that blew my mind a little. It was a bit like seeing The Sixth Sense then wanting to watch it again immediately with your new found knowledge. I thought the title was very apt, because Chloe is an imposter. She has no idea who she is, so becomes what other people need her to be. I truly hoped for a happier future for the character and her sense of isolation touched me. This was a great read, both as a mystery, but also has an exploration of what happens when we have no roots or anchor in life.
Meet The Author
Anna Wharton has been a print and broadcast journalist for more than twenty years, writing for newspapers including The Times, Guardian, Sunday Times Magazine, Grazia and Red. She was formally an executive editor at The Daily Mail. Anna has ghostwritten four memoirs including the Sunday Times Bestseller Somebody I Used To Know and Orwell Prize longlisted CUT: One Woman’s Fight Against FGM in Britain Today. The Imposter is her first novel.