I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

The Torun Way book club is back.

For those of you that have been reading the blog for a while (anticipating that number to be somewhere between 0 and 0.5) you’ll know all about the Torun Way Book Club.

For those that don’t know what it is… take a wild guess.

It actually came back earlier in the summer when we read The Girl on the Train but I was going to read that anyway (and we all know how well that turned out).

This time Debs chose I Let You Go, a Richard and Judy summer pick, and also a title selected by the Loose Women.

If that doesn’t say quality, I don’t know what does.

Five-year-old Jacob is out walking with his mother when he breaks away from her and is hit by a car. He dies in her arms as the driver of the car speeds away.

The story then follows Jenna as she leaves Bristol to get away from the death of Jacob and DI Ray Stevens who is investigating the hit and run, attempting to track down the driver.

At first, the book felt odd to me. It flipped between Jenna mourning poor Jacob, trying to start a new life in a remote Welsh village and a police procedural miles away.

It felt like two different books, like last year’s Daughter by Jane Shemilt stitched together with a Peter James book. Both of them very good, but an odd combination.

I struggled with it at first. Jenna’s story seemed to be developing at some pace, meeting new people, then getting on with her life, while Stevens story in Bristol seemed to centre around the struggles of his marriage and his growing attraction to a colleague.

Then there is one of the best twists I’ve ever come across in a book. I didn’t see it coming at all.

There’s not much else I can say that doesn’t ruin the twist, so I do suggest you go and read the book, then come back to me.

There is another twist later on in the book that made me think “Oh, FFS.” – but then the twist is swiftly explained and the book is rescued.

The two parts of the story still remain separate, and I’m struggling to understand the point of delving into the police’s private lives for no other reason than padding the book out a little.

The first third of the book is definitely built around the twist, which is a shame. It would be nice to see that section become a bit more developed, because I can believe some people would have given up before the revelation.

Like I Let You Go, the return of The Torun Way Book Club got off to a shaky start, but is now back on track. It’s my turn to pick the next book. It’ll come as no surprise that I’ve picked A Little Life

The Devil in the Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson

In my blog post about The Martian I warned about pre-judging books because they’re from a genre you might not normally read.

 

It’s a lesson I learned from a book I read a short while before I read The Martian, when I read The Devil in the Marshalsea.

 

I think I’ve said on here before that I don’t really like books set in the past. If I haven’t said it, then I meant to.

 

The Devil in the Marshalsea, Daughter and The Martian are all books from the Richard and Judy Book Club’s Autumn 2014 selection. This is where I get a bit work-y, so forgive me, please.

 

My job means I get to work on promoting this Book Club in our stores, which means I get to hear a lot about each of the books, including first hand what Richard and Judy think about them when they’re recording the podcasts for the series.

 

I was trying to read as many of the books prior to the filming day as possible, or at least a bit of as many of them as I could. I figured I’d start with Devil in the Marshalsea because, being a historical novel it was the one I was going to enjoy the least.

 

Well, I got that wrong, didn’t I?

 

I worked out a while back that the reason I don’t like historical novels is because often it feels like the author is showing off everything they’ve discovered while researching.

 

They go into far too much detail about the world their characters inhabit – they either do it in a third person narrative, which ends up being long paragraphs of just descriptive text before the characters even turn up.

 

Or, even worse, in a first person narrative, the main character wonders around supplying remarkably insightful comments about the political situation of the time or else it’s a surprise they’re not walking into things because they’re so busy describing everything in tiny, tiny detail.

 

Take any historical novel, lift out a paragraph and ask yourself – if this was set in the present time would anyone really have that much conscious thought about a lamppost? Probably not – yet, it seems a perfectly normal thing to do in any book set pre-WWII

 

BUT – my point is, that in this book Antonia Hodgson does something quite remarkable. She puts a simple author’s note at the beginning to give a little context about the world we’re visiting – and then she just gets on with the plot – which turns out to be quite a wonderful little murder mystery.

 

Anything else I might say would possibly ruin the plot, but a handy little hint to anyone who does now read it is to remember the rule about any murder mystery. Don’t try to work out who the murderer was, work out why the victim was murdered in the first place.

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?