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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