Posted in Netgalley

The Glimpse by Lis Bensley.

This was a complicated and fascinating book about art, but also how difficult the relationship can be between mothers and daughters.. I really believed in this story and it’s portrayal of the difficulties in making art. I was not surprised to read that the author had been an art writer, because of the detail and truth in the process of creating. Set in the art world of NYC, Lisa is a painter in the Abstract Expressionist era of the 1950s. She starts to be sidelined when she becomes pregnant, but truly believes she can be a mother and still create great art. Studying in NYC is a dream and I think she really felt she’d found her people, her tribe. Fellow artist and lover Hank, goes up against her for an exhibition and is surprised when it’s Lisa’s work that really gets noticed. We then jump to 1966.

When her daughter Rouge was born, Lisa found herself butting up against the male dominated art world, surprised to find it quite conventional after all. I loved the feminist take on what we imagine to be a fairly free and bohemian world. It was an area of life that I’d imagined had less barriers. I really felt for Lisa and understood her disillusionment when her ex-lover is suddenly a new darling of the movement. Especially considering how similar their work is. The psychological effects of this realisation include resentment building between mother and daughter. The resentment is felt, even where it isn’t knowingly expressed or acknowledged. Lisa ends up teaching in college to pay the bills, she also starts to drink more heavily and take risks. Years later, when her daughter Rouge takes an interest in art she chooses photography as her medium. She looks for a mentor and finds Ben Fuller, who happens to be one of Lisa’s old lovers. This acknowledgment, and from a male member of the art world, adds another layer of resentment between mother and daughter. If Rouge’s photography is going to be noticed, how will Lisa cope and what lengths will she go to in order to deal with these negative feelings? Would she consider sabotage?

When she was pregnant Lisa could have chosen another road, she could have walked through a door of her choosing and be living a different life. She hasn’t intentionally made Rouge feel unwanted, but the choice to stop creating art held within it so much self-sacrifice, that it’s some unconscious negativity and even anger has come through to her daughter. Now her daughter is going to take the acclaim that Lisa feels is rightfully hers. However, Rouge is also angry, about the drinking and the revolving door of lovers who come in and out. She is so dismissive of her mother’s choices that she’s very surprised to find one of these lovers had anything useful to teach her. If her photography is good enough, she can imagine doors opening for her. It could be an escape from home and her mother.


I loved that all those elements and difficulties of a woman creating are expressed through Lisa’s world and it’s likely the author has felt similar constraints herself – they haven’t really gone away half a century later. I still feel guilty if I’m writing instead of doing the housework, or doing something for the family. I even find it hard to tell friends I can’t see them because I’m writing. Writing isn’t seen as real work until you’re published, but if you can’t write that never happens. Everyone thinks it can just be moved to tomorrow, and I know I’m not alone in putting it off. Some of that could be imposter syndrome, but it’s also saying it out loud. If I tell people I’m writing, then it’s real with all it’s chance of failure. However, the difference between the 1950s and the 1960s is a huge one culturally, There’s the pill for a start, leaving women in developed countries in charge of their own fertility. Between that and the more permissive attitudes in society it’s clear to see why Lisa would feel there is a huge gap between her generation and her daughter’s. Rouge is free to network and really sell herself. She can curate her own image as an artist, whereas mothers already have one. The author depicts the artistic journey so well – that imposter syndrome, the dreams, the crushing reality and self-sabotage are all seen in these two women. The author shows, quite beautifully, how mothers and daughters misunderstand each other: not knowing the cultural differences between their generations; not even understanding, never mind appreciating, the sacrifices made and the love behind them. This book is about that distance between mothers and daughters, a distance that can only be bridged through openness and honesty, as well as space and time. This was a fascinating and psychologically complex read.

Meet The Author.

Lis Bensley is a writer living in Santa Cruz, CA. She has worked as a journalist at The New York Times and The International Herald Tribune, when she lived in Paris and studied cooking at the Cordon Bleu. Subsequently she wrote The Women’s Health Cookbook. To entertain her children, she wrote The Adventures of Milo & Flea about the antics of their cat and dog. She is currently hoping to publish her novel The Glimpse and is working on sequels to the Milo and Flea story.

Posted in Random Things Tours

The Black Dress by Deborah Moggach.

I truly enjoyed Deborah Moggach’s last novel The Carer thanks to it’s depiction of family dynamics. She showed the problems common to ‘the middle’ where both children and parents need us in equal measure, but mostly that difficult decision about ‘caring’ for an elderly relative and the compromises we have to make. This novel concentrates more on growing older in the 21st Century with all it’s difficulties and choices to face. More people over 50 are facing huge life changes and are emerging from broken relationships into a world that’s moved on several decades. They face the daunting prospect of internet dating, cat-fishing, swiping right and learning to navigate through it all. I think we all imagine there’s an age where we grow up and become adults. We expect wisdom to set in, the risks and mistakes to be less and for us to be settled in who and where we are. Of course I’ve reached middle age and don’t feel any where near being a real adult. I’ve realised I’m still the same heart on sleeve, leap of faith, in love with love, risk taker that I’ve always been. There’s growth from experience, but my essential character has not changed. However, I identified with Pru, who is weathering this massive life change, then sees a black dress in a charity shop and wonders what if I was someone different for a while?

Pru’s husband has walked out and has set up home in their little holiday cottage by the sea. Her only consolation is her friend Azra, always a little too wild and boho for Pru’s husband’s taste, but a great solace as she contemplates living the rest of her life without her other spoon. To be honest with herself, it’s not really him that she misses. She misses their life together – the past memories of playing on the beach with the children, always having someone next to her in bed, and those in-jokes that they would only get together. Now the bed feels huge and Pru feels numb and bewildered. In something of a daze, she has to attend the funeral of an old friend, but at the church she notices that something’s not quite right. There are people she expected to see, who aren’t here. As she listens to the hymns and the eulogy she wonders why it doesn’t sound like the friend she knew. Then the penny drops – she’s at the wrong funeral. Yet somehow she gets swept along with it and finds she has a good time, conversation, a few drinks and banter with some of the other guests. So when she sees the black dress hanging there, she allows herself to wonder why not? Maybe she will meet a nice widower to bring some excitement into her life. With this in mind she starts to buy the paper and circle the obituaries.

It is Azra who points out that what Pru is experiencing is grief. The loss of a decades long marriage is enormous and it’s very clear she’s not thinking straight. Whenever she talks to her husband she doesn’t get a clear idea about why he wanted to leave. This is what she feels she needs to know and understand, before she can move forward. Yet, as she finds out, sometimes the truth is worse than not knowing. Now she can add anger to the list of emotions cycling through her head. In the midst of this she attends her first chosen funeral. The deceased is a woman of her own age and used to be a nurse, so her story will be that they lost touch after doing their nursing training together all those years ago. The widower seems a lovely man, devastated by his wife’s death and eager to hear stories about nursing college. Pru is welcomed back to the family home and meets the couple’s grown up children. She thinks there might be something there with this man, given a little time and the right encouragement. That’s if she had a reason to go back to the house of course? As she leaves her wrap behind as well as her number, in case he ever wants to talk some more.

Pru’s audacity really grabbed me. Yes, what she’s doing is crazy and there’s a good chance one of her escapades will go wrong. In that sense it’s a bit like watching a car crash, you can’t bear to look but you can’t look away either. Of course at first she’s looking for comfort, someone who understands the loss she has experienced maybe, and there’s an element of acting out on the anger she feels about her husband’s lies and betrayal. However, the sheer nerve it would take to walk into a stranger’s funeral and play another version of yourself for the day shows she has some sass and attitude. Whenever it goes wrong, and it does, she doesn’t stop taking those leaps of faith just to move forward. Yes, there are less messy and dangerous ways of grieving a lost relationship, but this is Pru’s way. It doesn’t matter where the next step takes her, as long as it’s away from those painful feelings and fear of loneliness. It’s in these early stages that a lot of the comedy lies too, just in the situations she places herself. There’s a kind of bravery in her actions, but a hint of madness too and I wasn’t sure which way Moggach would take her story. As it turns out, a much darker direction than I expected, but so very delicious too.

As Pru takes more risks and trusts the wrong people, her solutions take a darker turn. There were times when I wanted her to keep still for a moment and think, or even better, to feel the conflicting emotions she’s trying to stuff deep down inside. There’s a moment, where one of her beaus takes her on a helicopter ride down to an uninhabited island formed from sandbanks. As she steps onto this pristine sand, where no one else has been, there’s a brief spell of peace. Once the rotors stopped turning and she stops for a moment, I felt a sense of relief that everything was quiet. She’s in a space between places, somewhere she’s never been and that holds no memories. This moment feels like a metaphor for how Pru’s journey could have been, if she’d taken more time and space to think and explore how she really wanted the rest of her life to look. In the spiral of activity she’s missed things; if she’d struck up a friendship with that first widower, rather than a relationship, they might have been a comfort to each other, she brushes aside overtures of friendship from Pam across the road who’s always seemed a bit boring, but might have proved to be a great friend, and she might have come to terms with what happened. Now though, she’s in a spiral downwards.

It’s hard to categorise this novel, because although it feels like a light, easy read, it’s incredibly complex. I would struggle to place it in a genre, because it’s drama, tragedy, comedy, and thriller. Despite covering themes of infidelity, coercive control, death and grief it’s also warm and witty. The author does an excellent job of lampooning middle class morés, shown when Pru takes a rough diamond of a boyfriend to a party with friends. Moggach then pulls off an incredible reveal, worthy of any thriller and I really hadn’t seen coming. So much so that I had to go back and look for how I’d missed it. It was brilliantly well done. Then there’s Pru herself, a central character you can’t help but fall in love with. She’s far from perfect, in fact at times she’s conniving, manipulative and full of revenge, but she’s also warm, caring, funny and at her best she’s full of zest for life. Yet underneath it all, she’s lonely and very vulnerable. There are darker moments towards the end that made me worry for Pru, and they show how easy it is to be preyed upon by others when we’re this vulnerable. I loved being able to read about a woman of a certain age still having an exciting life, when often women over 50 are dismissed as uninteresting. Pru enjoys socialising, dressing up and having sex too. Despite her faults, I was hanging on till the last page hoping that Pru battled through – even if her methods were … unexpected. This wonderful book cements the author’s reputation with me, as a writer whose next book I would buy without hesitation.

Meet The Author

Deborah Moggach, OBE, is a British novelist and an award-winning screenwriter. She has written twenty novels, including Tulip Fever, These Foolish Things (which became the bestselling novel and film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel), and The Carer. She lives in London.

Posted in Publisher Proof

Another Life by Jodie Chapman.

Published by Michael Joseph, 1st April 2021.

Nick and Anna work the same summer job at their local cinema. Anna is mysterious, beautiful and from a very different world to Nick.

She’s grown up preparing fot the end of days, in a tightly-controlled existence where Christmas, getting drunk and sex before marriage are all off limits.

So when Nick comes into her life, Anna falls passionately in love. Their shared world burns with poetry and music, cigarettes and conversation – hints of the people they hope to become.

But Anna, on the cusp of adulthood, is afraid to give up everything she’s ever believed in and everyone she’s ever loved. She walks away and Nick doesn’t stop her.

Years later, a tragedy draws Anna back into Nick’s life.

But rekindling their relationship leaves Anna and Nick facing a terrible choice between a love that’s endured decades, and the promises they’ve made to others along the way.

Wow! I expected a love story and received so much more from this wonderful read. Jodie Chapman has managed to capture all of life’s stages as we to and fro through the years with Anna and Nick. Told mainly by Nick, we begin on Christmas Eve in NYC 2018, then we tumble back through the years: to when he meets Anna; to his childhood years and everything beyond. Everything we come to learn about Nick’s personality, his closed off manner and inability to let anyone close, is made clear by one childhood event. So dreadful and emotional that it brought me up short. I had to close the book for a moment to process it and think about what such a loss could do to a young boy.

Nick and Anna first meet in their early twenties, while working at their local cinema. In the heat soaked days of summer 2003, their love burns with a similar intensity, as only young love can. They seem opposites. Nick is quiet and has a solidity to his character. Anna is more intense and emotion driven. These differences could balance each other out, but instead they mean the relationship never fully catches light. Anna’s fervency could come from her deeply religious upbringing. Her beliefs are strong and part of her, not just as a religion but as a culture, a way of being. If she’s to throw that life away she doesn’t just lose her church, she loses her friends, her family, her certainty in the way she sees the world. Only promises of Nick’s real feelings could persuade her to let go of these ties. Yet Nick isn’t built for such intensity of feeling. His calmness and solidity come from a place of not wanting to feel such extremes of emotion. He closes off just when Anna needs assurances. It is a short lived romance that never fully gets off the ground. Yet, this is not the last time they will meet, as they are thrown together again several times over a lifetime.

Love in all its forms is celebrated here, not just romantic love, but sibling love, family love, and love of a religion or way of life. Nick and his brother Sal have such a special relationship, condensed into that opening section, which is set in Manhattan. Nick pours a lifetime of shared love and memories into just a few pages and it grabs you, it pulls you into the story. In a way Sal is more like Anna, more fiery and quick to share his thoughts and feelings. Despite this difference in their characters the brothers are very close. We’re taken deeper into their lives together later in the novel, almost as if Nick has had to take the time to open up to the reader. These chapters are infused with nostalgia for the late eighties and early nineties – probably because I was a teenager back then, but also because they have the feel of faded home movies and I could almost here the sound of an old-fashioned projector running in the background. The author lulls us into a sepia toned dream and then shatters our emotions again as we revisit that terrible life changing event, but in greater detail. We see that this has affected both brothers, but in different ways. It also feels like one of those moments where everything clicks into place and our understanding of Nick’s behaviour and personality opens up completely.

I understood the young Anna well, because I was brought up within the confines of religion. My primary school years were spent partly in Catholic school and I made my first communion and confession, then inexplicably my Mum jumped to an evangelical church which became all encompassing. It was our Sundays, then weekly prayer meetings, house group, youth group and social events. In hindsight I was being indoctrinated and at times my parents actually scared me, because their behaviour was so out of character. If I liked a boy, my head would start whirling with how much my parents might disapprove, how they would act, the constant teaching of purity and dating exclusively within the faith and its rules. Often I found myself in the painful position of ‘just friends’ with someone I really liked, because I was too frightened to go out with them. I understood that Anna needed to hear more about how Nick felt. Did he love her? She couldn’t wait and let things play out because she didn’t have the freedom.

Personally, I realised that I needed to face whether or not I believed in this system of religion, independent from my parents. Not for a relationship, but for me. Then, although we didn’t always agree, I could make my own life choices based on my moral compass and not someone else’s. This is something Anna needed to learn too, whether she wanted that religious life or something different for herself in the future, because within some religions there is no compromise. I did appreciate the author’s autobiographical influence here, because I learned more about the Jehovah’s Witnesses and their faith. It gave me a more nuanced picture than I had previously and helped me understand Anna’s choices. I also loved the touch of having Anna’s emails and poems throughout, because it is the only way we hear her voice unmediated by Nick.

The background of Nick’s parents marriage was a great addition to the novel, because it shows us how two very different people can be together. Eve is one of those people whose warmth can light up a room. She’s also keenly intelligent, not just intellectually but emotionally too. She can definitely read the men in her life. Her husband Paul is hard to like, because he’s more austere and can be unpredictable. It’s as if he’s resentful of something, and while it’s hard to understand what that might be at first, Nick does eventually discover why his father was so difficult. From the outside, people would shake their heads and wonder why this couple are together and how the relationship works. Marriage is a secret room, and only the two people inside it truly have the key to open its door. This book also feels like a key. A key to the inside of Nick and how he sees his life and relationships. A privileged and rare look into how he truly thinks and feels, but only for those who open it’s pages. I feel very lucky to be one of those few and I hope you will too.

Meet The Author

Born and raised in England, Jodie spent a decade as a photographer before returning to her first love of writing. She lives in Kent with her husband and three sons. Another Life is her first novel, coming April 2021.

Instagram: @jodiechapman
Twitter: @jodiechapman

Posted in Netgalley

If I Could Say Goodbye by Emma Cooper.

#NetGalley #HeadlineReview #IfICouldSayGoodbye

Published: 17th September 2020

Publisher: Headline Review

ISBN: 1472265041

What an incredibly emotional read this was for me. I found myself having a good old cry at 4am over Jen and her family’s story. It begins when Jennifer is adopted by a childless couple and four years later gets an unexpected little sister. Kerry is a determined, mischievous and curious little girl and the pair are incredibly close. In adulthood, the two are still inseparable. Jen now has husband Ed and two children while Kerry has a long term partner in Nessa, who she is hoping to propose to. When a terrible accident happens while the sisters are on a shopping trip for an engagement ring, Kerry is killed. Now Jen needs to find a way to carry on living, but the survivor’s guilt and grief are very strong. As Jen starts to lose herself in her memories of her sister, it becomes clear that Jen can’t let Kerry go. Yet, by keeping hold of her sister, will she end up losing her own family?

This is my second book by Emma Cooper and after reading this she has been bumped up to my list of favourites – those authors where I know I’m guaranteed a great story, emotional impact and believable characters. She has the talent to combine a big emotional punch, with a sprinkling of humour which isn’t easy to do. I honestly fell in love with these characters and their relationships with each other. Jen is a very organised and capable woman, who loves spending time with her family and creating a beautiful home. I loved her with Ed and the way the author has created a balance of the romantic and the mundane into their relationship. There’s enough of a love story to draw us in, but we see the normality too as they get the children ready for school, do the grocery shop and get involved with school activities. Underneath the daily grind though is a strong love and passion for each other. Yet it is becoming tested by changes in Jen. Ed has noticed that Jen doesn’t seem as organised as usual and is often staring off into space. Then at other times she is almost over-excited and far be it from him to complain about more sex, but well, he wasn’t complaining exactly… it just isn’t like his wife. He worries, but labels these changes as part of the grieving process. He doesn’t know what we know. Jen can still see Kerry and talk to her. Kerry has been fuelling the recklessness he’s seen such as daring Jen to leap off a cliff into the sea. There’s a point when Ed realises that this isn’t just getting lost in memories. For Jen, Kerry is as real as he is or even the children and what will he do when this starts to affect them?

This was a tough, but loving and humorous portrayal of the journey relationships take when one partner is struggling mentally. I found the alternate chapters between Jen and Ed so effective because we can see the same events through both sets of eyes, sometimes with very conflicting results. I was so torn because I loved both of them, I wanted them to be together but I could understand each viewpoint too. Ed wants his wife back, the person he fell in love with and his best friend. He wants to be a family, but wants to protect their children too. Jen has a heartbreaking dilemma. Does she follow medical advice and take the pills that might make Kerry disappear forever? The psychiatrist who sees Jen and diagnoses complicated grief understands what she’s feeling. This is survivor’s guilt; Jen wonders why she survived and Kerry didn’t. Kerry saved her life by pushing her away from the oncoming vehicle. In Jen’s mind she’s already killed her once. Now she feels like she’s killing her all over again.

This was a tough read because I struggle with complicated grief. In 2007, as regular readers will know, my husband died from pneumonia as a complication of Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis. It had been coming for some time, but for the final year of his life I was his carer for 24 hours almost every day, unless I had a Marie Curie nurse. He was dependent on me for food, drink, medication and all bodily functions, even breathing. Three months before he died I agreed that he needed to be admitted to a nursing home from hospital. One of our carers was injured and I couldn’t have managed alone. I knew when I made that choice it was very likely he would die. For a few weeks after his death, I would see him out of the corner of my eye, sitting in his wheelchair looking out into the garden. I could also hear the mechanism of his wheelchair and a little beep it used to make. I realised that this wasn’t really Jerzy, this was me being unable to let go. In therapy I talked about survivor’s guilt and how I felt I had killed him by sanctioning the nursing home. I knew rationally I couldn’t have done anything else, but emotionally it’s been very hard to accept my own choice. I also have multiple sclerosis but in a milder form and I discuss choices and possibilities at length with my new partner, because I would hate him to go through the same thing. Reading this was emotional, I did cry, but I also felt less alone with my experience.

The author has taken a really tough subject, but made it warm and humorous. I love the way Kerry is often doing things she did as a little girl like standing on her head or blowing bubblegum. She also sits in the oddest places and actively tries to make Jen laugh. The wider family were lovely too, willing to support and help out with the children or Jen. Her mum is always full of good sensible advice and their acceptance of this peculiar phenomenon is brilliant. The final scenes choked me up. They made me sad for what I lost back then as well as for Jen. I was desperate for her and Ed to make it and come back together as a family. The night I finished the book I was an angling widow! My partner and my brother went night fishing, so I was alone for the final chapters. I had a good cry on the dog – he’s very absorbent. I found myself very thankful for the new chance of love that I’ve had with my partner over the last couple of years. All I wanted to do was hold him close and tell him how much I loved him. This is an honest story about how complicated grief can be, but never lets us forget that where there is grief there is always great love.

Biography

Emma Cooper is a former teaching assistant, who lives in Shropshire, with her partner and four children. Her spare time consists of writing novels, drinking wine and watching box-sets with her partner of twenty-four years, who still makes her smile every day.

Her debut, The Songs of Us was snapped up in multiple pre-empts and auctions and is now being translated into seven different languages. Her last novel The First Time I Saw You was also a bestseller.

Posted in Personal Purchase

Invisible Girl by Lisa Jewell.

#InvisibleGirl #LisaJewell #bookbloggers

Lisa Jewell is another favourite thriller writer of mine. I know with her books I’m going to get that addictive, dark and ‘unputdownable’ novel I’ve been craving for solid weekend of reading. In actuality I finished this in five hours straight. I don’t know if it’s because I am a counsellor, but I love it when psychological professionals are depicted in novels – I instantly know I’m getting one of two things; a great counsellor with a messy personal life or a creepy manipulator who isn’t what they seem. In this case I got both, plus plenty of other complex characters to get my teeth into it.

The central relationship of this novel is that between child psychologist Roan Fore and his previous patient Saffyre Maddox. Saffyre has lost both parents and lives in a London tower block with her uncle Aaron. They spend three years as doctor and patient until she’s made so much progress it’s time for Roan to discharge her. Yet Saffyre doesn’t feel fixed. She has simply learned to wear masks. She’s studied the girls at school and now knows how to be an ordinary girl, she has a bunch of friends and at home seems the content family member. Once her grandfather dies, it soon becomes clear that no one knows or sees the true Saffyre. She’s become invisible.

Another narrator is physiotherapist and mother Cate. Cate probably appears to have everything. A long marriage to a fellow professional, two teenage children and an apartment in a huge mansion house until the renovations are completed on the family home in Kilburn. For now she’s getting used to her new flat, and life in Hampstead village. However, it’s not long before the novelty of life in this new neighbourhood wears off, when one of her daughter’s friends is sexually assaulted on her way home. This is not the first incident either. Could it be that the attacker is hiding on the building plot next door, which has seen very little activity apart from one JCB placed on site. The foxes are more active and can be heard screaming at night. Cate wants to keep her children safe, asking her teenage daughter Georgia to be careful coming home, especially at dusk onwards. Her son, Josh, is younger but is becoming increasingly difficult to pin down. She doesn’t always know where he’s been and who with, but can’t bring herself to imagine her kind, tender boy doing any harm. Cate’s husband is running, at all different hours and sometimes for whole afternoons. Should she be worried about where he is? That is aside from the affair she’d convinced herself was happening this time last year.

Our last narrator is Owen, a young, single man lodging with his aunt Tess down the road. Cate hates to generalise but he is the archetypal sexual predator. In his thirties, but with no relationship and seems like a bit of a loner. In fact the truth is even more worrying as we learn that Owen works at the local college and has been suspended for sexual harassment. Having turned down a course on creating a safer workplace, Owen decides to quit but now he has even more time on his hands. He finds himself drawn into the murky world of ‘incel’ websites – a group of men who are termed involuntary celibates because women won’t sleep with them. He makes contact with one charismatic leader within the movement and they meet for a drink, but Owen finds his extreme ideas frightening. He believes in enforced impregnation, to get past this conspiracy barring men like them from having a sex life or their own families. Worryingly, and without being asked, he gives Owen a bottle of rohypnol. Mortified, Owen takes them but hides them in his drawers at home. Put off by the incel extremists, Owen decides instead to join Tinder and ends up on a date with a woman on Valentine’s Day. Little does he know that the events of that evening will become very important and may impact the rest of his life.

I liked the way Lisa Jewell takes us inside these characters while also letting us know how others see them. Cate sees Owen as an odd character who seems to stare and appears awkward around women. Saffyre sees Cate as the blonde skinny wife, with a life that revolves around her husband and children. Owen notices Saffyre hanging around the building plot and watching Cate’s family. All these disparate threads come together when Saffyre is reported missing. The author makes points about our biases in the case of Owen. When questioned by the police Cate mentions him as someone who’s odd, who watches people and suggests they question him. It made me think of the case of the 2010 case of Joanna Yeates who went missing in her home town of Bristol. The police took her landlord, Christopher Jeffries, in for questioning and his face was plastered all over the nation’s press. Even when released from questioning there were those that still found Jeffries suspicious. His only crime it seemed was to look a bit odd and unkempt and be described as a loner. Jeffries won substantial libel damages. On the other hand, is someone has the air of respectability through their profession or financial position they can get away with murder under our noses.

Saffyre is an interesting character and although I didn’t fully understand the reasons for her choice to live outdoors – I like my comforts – I can see how the flat becomes claustrophobic for her. Eight storeys up and the heat from all the surrounding flats becomes stifling. I wondered if it was a type of grounding she was seeking? I understand that. I have a need to feel the earth with my bare feet, particularly one specific piece of earth have almost always lived next to since I born. I was born on a farm across the road from the River Trent, and although I’m moving further south on that river as the years go by, I still take off my shoes and stand bare foot on the river bank. It’s like a communion with the river and it’s boundaries – a way of letting it and me know I am home. For Saffyre it’s the stars, the being able to wrap up warm while feeling cold nip your face, the quiet communion with a visiting fox, the feeling that perhaps, like the fox, she is wild. Inside there are many things she has to face, like the loss that surrounds her, the self harm, and the terrible thing a boy at school did when she was much younger. Outside she’s free from these things and it is no coincidence that outside is where she first trusts someone enough to share those painful experiences. She’s incredibly perceptive for her age and is the only one to realise that Cate’s life is largely dependent on one man, and Saffyre is perfectly placed to see the potential for future pain in that choice.

Lisa Jewell is great at throwing red herrings into the plot and I didn’t recognise all of them, happy to go where the story took me rather than furiously trying to work it all out. I knew which way I wanted the plot to go and I was largely rewarded, with just one surprise for good measure. I always want to ask authors whether they know how their novels will resolve, which way each character will go and who will take the blame. I’m sure I’d get a variety of different answers. I do give my heart away to characters and I was desperately hoping Joshua wasn’t involved the sex attacks in the area, because I wanted him to be the sweet, kind boy I had built him up to be. What a story like this one tells us is that we are all a couple of decisions away from a completely different life. Georgia could walk out one night and meet the attacker. Owen could take his date rape drugs on his Valentine’s date. Cate could have left Roan years before when he cheated on her and promised to never do the same again. It made me think of the parallel lives we could have, if we just changed our minds. From a therapist’s standpoint it made me think a lot about fitness to practice and how we make the choice to see or not see a client. How we decide when to end therapy. Mainly, I wondered how we can be expected to help other people find their broken pieces if our own life is falling apart, and what impact that knowledge has on a young client like Saffyre. The novel felt timely, thoughtful and a great weekend read.

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The Silent Treatment by Abbie Greaves


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.