This interesting novel grabbed me right from the start, as Maggie calmly swallows a handful of tablets, then gets up to make dinner for her husband. It takes till half way through prepping the green beans and she has collapsed suddenly, so suddenly there is no time to break her own fall. Frank is so engrossed in his study that the smoke alarm is the first sign of the tragedy that has unfolded in their kitchen. He finds their tea on fire in the oven and a little way away, Maggie is unconscious on the floor. Frank’s voice is hoarse and he’s unused to the sound as he calls the emergency services. This is when The reader first finds out that Frank hasn’t spoken to anyone, even his beloved wife, for the past six months.When I requested the novel from Netgalley it was this premise that first drew me in. Probably because, as my long-suffering partner will tell you, I never stop talking. I imagine that not chatting to the person you live with takes concerted effort. Greaves came across the premise for her novel when she read an article about a Japanese boy who had never seen his parents speak to one another. It’s intriguing and does ensure that you keep reading; I kept wondering why and how this situation could have started.
I hadn’t realised that the book was about pregnancy loss and infertility. Greaves writes about the grief and helplessness of this experience with real insight. Having been through the same experience, it was important to me that Maggie’s response feel genuine. We see the ups and downs of a long term relationship as Frank starts to reminisce, and the romantic beginnings of building their home together. As Maggie lies in a coma at the hospital, her nurse Daisy encourages Frank to talk, to say everything he can to her because the time they have left together may be limited. This Is where Frank’s secret is revealed and we know why he hasn’t spoken for six months.
I enjoyed the novel, even though there were parts I didn’t fully connect with. Although Frank’s narration is emotional I found him difficult to understand. It’s a if there is a barrier between the reader and Maggie, both because she’s in a coma and because we only see her through Frank’s eyes at first until the narrative voice changes. I found myself waiting for a contrasting chapter from Maggie’s point of view early on, then with Maggie’s letters we start to see her inner life. I found this a moving and honest portrayal of pregnancy loss and parenthood. It’s hard to imagine a relationship where all the usual day to day things happen like eating together, sleeping together and sex, without a word passing between them. I guess it shows the strength of love, that Maggie can continue to give while receiving silence. I won’t spoil the ending, but it is emotional and I can see it staying with readers. This is an intriguing debut and I would definitely look out for future novels from this author.