Daughter by Jane Shemilt

In the last review, I talked about an influx of books that flip between two time periods and said that I didn’t always feel the need for it.

 

Elizabeth Is Missing used it effectively to explore the concept of memory and put us into the mind of the main character… Daughter by Jane Shemilt uses the same technique to do the opposite.

 

Jenny starts the book, alone, isolated in a cottage, cut off from her family, the only communication she receives from her husband are blank postcards, a way of simply saying hello.

 

And then back to the past, a year previously where Jenny is surrounded by family, one daughter, twin sons and a loving husband.

 

Then Naomi disappears. One night, she just doesn’t come home.

 

The book alternates between the immediate aftermath of the disappearance, where Jenny begins to learn the secrets surround her family.

 

There is nothing particularly revolutionary about this story, it’s your basic mystery premise, which presents a number of suspects and possibilities and slowly whittles them down for the reader.

 

What it does manage to do very well is present the suspects – and part of that is down to the structure of presenting the past and the future at the same time.

 

There are parts where you know more than Jenny does and that puts you in a more advantaged position – and then suddenly, you’re a year in the future, and she knows more than you do.

 

What annoyed me was that I twigged ‘who’ it was straight away – and then forgot about them. The reason I say ‘who’ is because, from the beginning, it’s not entirely clear if Naomi has been kidnapped, or if she has run away.

 

I can’t really say any more than that – apart from that my gaydar is so good, I spotted a gay character on his first introduction, PAGES before it was confirmed – because I fear will give too much away, but the ending… the ending inspires debate.

 

I was fortunate enough to meet the author on Tuesday when she was being interviewed by Richard and Judy as part of their new Book Club. The ending divided Richard and Judy, but also my colleagues and I. Some people like it, some people don’t, some people interpret one thing from it, while others take a completely different view.

 

For me, what made it, was the heartbreaking realisation as the book went on that Jenny doesn’t know her family, specifically her daughter as well as she does. And, that it feels like she starts to hope that her daughter has been taken against her will rather than simply chosen to leave because that would mean her daughter isn’t a complete stranger.

 

It wasn’t touched on in any great detail, and was maybe just something that I read into it, but both options were as terrible the other. Do you hope that you knew your daughter really well, and that she’s now in danger, or do you hope that your life has been a lie, that you don’t know her, but she’s somewhere else, living her life.

 

She’s happy… without you?       

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Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

There are a lot of books out there that flip between the present day and the past. It’s been going on a while but is becoming more and more of a common occurrence. I shouldn’t judge, I do the same in my own book.

 

Why does it get used? In the case of Memories of a Murder I use it to explore a difficult family history that needs to be understood in order to fully explain why the murder happens. I sometimes wonder if I could have written it in a different way, but that is a question for a different day.

 

I’ve seen other books use the technique before and it doesn’t always work, sometimes it comes across as a bit of a gimmick and can be somewhat confusing as well. Some books do it well, but there’s no need to write it in that way.

 

My point is, Healey uses this technique and to great effect.

 

Elizabeth Is Missing tells the tale of Maud, an elderly widow who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. The story is told from Maud’s point of view and brilliant captures the confusion of someone who’s consciousness is slowly blurring into a sea of vague, insubstantial moments.

 

Like most people suffering from Alzheimer’s, Maud retains quite a vivid memory of her younger years, and she quite often retreats into these memories. That’s why the structural technique of alternating between time periods works so well in this book, because for Maud, it’s one big swirling mess. It’s all happening to her right now, or more accurately, it feels like it all just happened.

 

When I said on Twitter that I’d just finished reading Elizabeth Is Missing, someone asked whether they’d found her. I replied stating that that was the wrong question. It wasn’t about whether they found her, but actually whether Elizabeth was really missing at all.

 

The ‘disappearance’ of Elizabeth is connected only to Maud’s younger days by the disappearance of her older sister Sukie. Maud confuses the two constantly throughout the book, and we as a reader are left to assume that she is simply a confused old woman and that while something has happened to Elizabeth, it is nothing sinister. The resolution of the mystery of Elizabeth comes a little way from the end and feels – at first – kind of flat, but it ripples into something more and we finally found out what happens to Sukie

 

To me, the plot feels almost secondary to the journey we go on with Maud, and maybe that’s because, even though it is resolved at the end of the novel, for Maud, it will never be resolved. Before I’d even finished turning that last page, she’d likely already forgotten what happened. She thinks of her mother at one point, who never finds out what happened to Sukie, and you can’t help but feel sad that Maud will never really know either. This isn’t a disease that will get better, she’ll keep going round in circles.

 

And that’s what you’re left with at the end of the book, a sense of sadness not only for Maud, but also her daughter Helen. Without revealing too much, the truth comes out because Helen finally snaps, sick of her mother constantly questioning the same things over and over again. Maud will never know the truth, but she’ll never stop asking. Helen will have to live with that constant questioning – and the heartbreak of having to answer.

 

This brings me to my only real criticism of the book. I said that the plot feels secondary to the writing, the experiences Maud is going through. It works during the present day parts, but I found myself reading the past sequences wanting to get back to the present. The thinking of a confused, older mind, the bit of the book that’s fascinating to read, isn’t there.

 

It’s presented as the thoughts of a young girl – and books that do this are ten-a-penny. The sadness of Maud’s older years isn’t there, and the plot isn’t strong enough to carry the parts in the past. Maybe it’s that young Maud and old Maud don’t seem to be the same person to me. Old Maud actually seems sharper than her young counterpart, despite her Alzheimer’s, whereas Young Maud comes across as a bit simple, maybe a bit vague.

 

I wish Young Maud had been fleshed out a bit more, it would have helped carry the plot that little bit better, and I think would have made the ending that much more heartbreak.

 

Ultimately, Elizabeth Is Missing is a wonderful book, one that has the potential to make you cry, but doesn’t quite get there. I don’t give out numbers out of ten – but I will say this is probably one of the best books I’ve read this year.

The Silkworm – Robert Galbraith

Last year JK Rowling was outed as the woman behind Robert Galbraith – the man behind the critically acclaimed debut crime novel ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’.

 

Sales skyrocketed and inevitably a review from me followed. What did I have to say about it?

 

I thought the main character Cormoran Strike wasn’t likable. His sidekick Robin WAS likeable but under used. I thought the mystery element was strong, but the structure was a little too obvious, and that while it felt disappointing through the first three quarters of the book, in hindsight it was cleverly written.

 

So, the sequel was released a few weeks ago.

 

How does The Silkworm stack up?

 

I’m a massive JK Rowling fan, so there’s always a possibility that I might be biased, but………

 

It was ok.

 

Strike was a much more sympathetic character and felt very real. Robin, on the other hand, came across as a little annoying, because of the constant misunderstanding between her and Strike about her future development.

 

The book ended with the pair of them in a much better place, with Robin helping out in the investigation, but it was annoying before they got there.

 

As for the mystery, it was… ok. It didn’t really engage with me, and I thought the ending and reveal was pretty flat, likely because I didn’t really care.

 

The thing is – if anyone should have been engaged in it, it should have been me. The victim was an author and the suspects were all within the publishing industry.

 

There’s enough decent material in here – mostly Strike – to give promise to book number three, and I think now the relationship between him and Robin has developed to a point where the next book will be much better.

 

I will read book three, but I don’t think I’ll be excited prior to the publication, I may not even read it straight away. There’s better stuff out there.

 

Bit disappointed, to be honest.

Not So Obvious

I’ve been thinking a lot about my future recently.

Just under three weeks ago, I sent sample chapters of Memories of a Murder off to six different agents – agents specifically recommended to me by a publishing director who had read the full novel.

So far, two of them have come back with rejections. One of them a fairly stock rejection letter, ‘not for me’ ‘subjective view’, ‘do try other agents’, etc, etc.

The other letter was a little more personal, with the agent stating that they didn’t love it, but they also struggled to see how Harry would be involved in future murder mysteries which are constructed in the same way.

That’s a valid point – it took me several years to work out how the sequel works.

So, obviously rejection was to be expected having sent it to six different agents, but also, just as obviously, I was expecting all six of them to rush to me within a couple of days with promises of literary prizes, movie adaptations and a never-ending parade of gorgeous young men (queuing for a signed copy of my book).

Obviously.

So, what if the other four agents all say no as well… what do I do then?

…To Those Who Wait

Nearly two months ago I posted THIS

Which, if you’re too lazy to read is a blog post about a publisher who offered to read Memories of a Murder.

She got back to me last week – and while she didn’t outright say she loved it – she did pay me some compliments about my writing style and gave me the names of six agents who might be able to help me.

The key thing was though, that she told me to use her name, the obvious inference here being that she doesn’t mind being associated with it – SO it can’t be all that bad.

I’ve sent it to all six of them (And told them all about my blog, so if they’re reading this, then hi!) earlier this week… so all I have to do now is wait.

Again.

(Also, even though, I’m not writing it today, it is being published today, and today is my birthday, SO Happy Birthday to me!)

Matthew Mitcham – Twists and Turns

This is a re-post of a review I did last year on my old blog. Tonight seemed like a good time to share it again.

I wave and look at the camera, because I want to connect with people unconditionally.

In August 2008, one Saturday morning, I came downstairs, wrapped up in my duvet, incredibly hungover and put the television on. Naturally, BBC1 came on first and I discovered boys in pants diving off platforms into water. It was the final of the Mens 10m Platform Diving in the Beijing Olympics.

I hadn’t seen any other moments of the 2008 Olympics, and I certainly didn’t know the rules of diving, short of ‘make sure you land in the water’, but being the pervert that I am, I decided to stick with it. Especially when the first diver I saw was incredibly attractive, just my type.

When he pulled himself out of the pool after his dive and grinned and waved at the camera, my gaydar pinged and I realised there was a (albeit slim) possibility that I might just be his type as well.

By the final round of diving, I’d studied enough on the internet to know how the scoring worked, and to know a little bit more about my new favourite diver – notably, that he was the only male out gay athlete in the Olympic village.

Twists and Turns tells the story of Matthew Mitcham, his childhood, his love of trampolining, his transition to diving and his goal to win gold at the London 2012 Olympics.

It also tells of his battles with depression, self-harm and drug abuse.

It’s not spoiling anything to reveal that Mitcham actually achieved his goal, four years early in Beijing, snatching victory from the Chinese with an incredible last dive. Even I, as a complete newcomer to the sport, knew from the moment that Mitcham hit the water, that he’d earned the top spot.

Fast forward four years, I’ve sort of kept up with Mitcham, but only really a little bit, by following him on Twitter. I honestly didn’t know much about him, but I was excited to see him dive again in London.

As a self-appointed honourary Australian when it comes to the sport of diving I was committing treason in the eyes of my friends by supporting Mitcham and not Tom Daley. I was gutted for Mitcham when he didn’t make it into the finals, missing out by one place.

But now, having read his autobiography, I can see what a huge achievement it was for him to even make it to London.

Twists and Turns is an incredibly honest and candid account of the struggles that he faced, both physical and emotional. Reading this book, and learning about him, made me change my mind set about him, and put me in mind of an internet meme that was doing the rounds just after the Olympics.

It showed the American gold medallist David Boudia looking quite stoic with the caption “USA celebrates Gold like it is Silver…” then Chinese Silver medallist Qui Bo crying: “China celebrates Silver like it is nothing…” – and lastly underneath is a picture of Tom Daley being carried into the pool by the rest of his teammates “…but Britain celebrates Bronze like it is motherfucking Platinum!”

It’s quite uplifting, but I can’t help now thinking there should be a fourth picture of Matthew Mitcham standing on the Olympic rings (Google it: it’s a fab picture) with the caption ‘Mitcham Wins’.

I’m not a biography type of person, people who have read this blog before will know that, but I adored this book. It was a real insight into someone who I have admired, but it also taught me something new about him. It showed me worlds that I’d never before experienced, and taught me that while it’s important to work hard on your goals, it’s just as important to work hard on yourself.

Mitcham has readjusted his goals based on his experiences and will be competing in the 3m Springboard competition in the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014. I will be there (in spirit only sadly, not quite lucky enough to get tickets), cheering him on and awarding my own points, but knowing full well that it’s not about him winning.

Because he’s already a winner.