Then She Was Gone – A novel by Lisa Jewell

The first book I read of Lisa’s was Ralph’s party, followed by Thirty nothing. And surprisingly, at the ripe old age of 17 these books really spoke to me.
I remember really identifying with the characters, in spite the obvious age difference.

As an author, I had not been following Lisa’s Work and then then a few weeks ago, whilst moving, I found those books and decided it might be an idea (now I’m actually in my 30’s) to re-read. I haven’t actually got that far yet, because I’m the mean time, I discovered her new book.

Then She Was Gone

Just as her early books, I found this book a delight to read. Easy to pick up and hard to put down, just what I like in my fiction.

The plot is a good one, mystery and intrigue all wrapped up in everyday life. In spite the unlikeliness of the mystery, it is completely believable because of the way in which Lisa writes her characters. Not once do you disbelieve how Laurel (arguably, the main character) acts or reacts, each of her behaviours and actions is discussed and you really feel as though you are going along this journey with her.

About a third of the way through, I got the feeling that I knew where the story was going, but how she would achieve this goal was intriguing. Knowing what was coming did not in any way distract from my enjoyment of reading this book, I found that I genuinely wanted to know what happened to the characters and how they got to what I believed would be the end point. In fact even though I thought I had a fair idea of what was coming, Lisa still managed to throw in a couple of twists that I had not predicted.

Lisa guides Lauren through the emotional roller coaster of re-living the disappearance of her daughter all those years ago. You feel her pain, you see the shell of a woman that she had become so clearly. And then you follow her as she begins to learn to accept and move on.

The Story

The story jumps from ‘Now’ to ‘Then’. This allows you to experience what happened to Ellie and what she was going through at the same as seeing the effect this has on Lauren and her family. The use of shifting time works really well and progresses the storyline whilst all the while keeping you emotionally attached to the characters.

I’ve mentioned this tool before in my review of ‘The Girls by Emma Cline’. I feel that Emma lost her way a little using this. Lisa however, seems to have a very good grasp of how to sign post for the reader whose story and when we are in the timeline, which makes this story a lot easier to read than Emma’s novel which uses a similar technique. This could be due to Lisa’s writing experience. With a back catalogue of no less than 15 books prior to ‘Then She Was Gone’, I feel she has had a lot of practice in honing her skill and finessing the readability of her work.

Ellie is not just a Macguffin in the story, she is a fully formed character who has he own thoughts and feelings, who experiences fear and pain. Lisa allows you to follow her on her journey and experience these emotions with her. This allows you to be emotionally attached to the character of Ellie and deepens the emotional investment you have.

The story for this book does seem a little far fetched on the face of it and I can only imagine the raised eyebrows that Lisa would have received on presenting the synopsis to her publisher. Lisa’s writing style brings a whole level of believability to it. So much so that you don’t once question it’s strangeness.
In the acknowledgements Lisa thanks her editors for making sense of the story. I am realising more and more that editors can sometimes make it break a story with subtle suggestions and in some cases I have read books which are screaming out for an editors guidance.

That is not to take away from Lisa’s ability and talent to create believable and loveable characters. A nudge on the story line from an editor still needs to be backed up by the ability of the author to sculpt these changes around the already developed and written story.

My Review

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, couldn’t put it down and ended up finishing it in record time. I would certainly recommend it to others. A book that you can completely immerse yourself in. This one is definitely staying on the bookshelf for a second read.

Blurb

(Taken from back cover)

She was fifteen, her mother’s golden girl.
She had her whole life ahead of her.
And then, in the blink of an eye, Ellie was gone.

Ten years on, Laurel has never given up hope of finding Ellie. And then she meets a charming and charismatic stranger who sweeps her off her feet.

But what really takes her breath away is when she meets his nine-year-old daughter.

Because his daughter is the image of Ellie.

Now all those unanswered questions that have haunted Laurel come flooding back.

What really happened to Ellie? And who still has secrets to hide?

 

The Girls – Emma Cline. Debut novel.

 

The Girls
The Girls – Emma Cline, Front cover artwork

I first found out about this book when the author, Emma Cline was being interviewed on the Radio. She came across as very down to earth and relatable. Once I discovered that the book was loosely based on the true life events surrounding the Manson family, I knew I had to read ‘The Girls’. I have, like many others, had a morbid fascination with this subject for many years and find the psychology behind such heinous acts of violence to be intriguing. For a debut novel, it is a rather brave choice of subject matter, one which undoubtedly has a lot of back ground research readily available but which has been covered by so many fiction and non-fiction authors in the past, I’d be daunted by the task of competing. This, however, is where Emma Cline comes into her own, she does not compete, she goes for an altogether different approach.

Overview

The book as a whole and the story it tells is certainly a good one, a different perspective to any I’ve read or seen in the past, a complete view of the goings on but from the peripheral, from the perspective of a young girl drawn into the cult by the seduction of change and the attentions of a beautiful older girl.

This book is described as “A coming-of-age tale like no other…” by Grazia magazine and I have to admit, they’ve got something there. If I were to describe this book, that is exactly what I would say, but it is so much more than this, a coming-of-age and an acceptance-of-age is more accurate.  When we meet Evie she is well into adulthood, we don’t get told her exact age but as the book is supposed to be set in modern day California that would make Evie about 44 when she is telling the story. She is alone in a house and coming to terms with what has become of her life, what she has done, what she has achieved, what she has missed out on.

Emma Cline was born in the late 1980’s but this does not prevent her from painting a very believable picture of the summer of 1969. Perhaps the device of looking back is what makes it so easy to believe the setting of this book. The detailed descriptions in this book are limited to people and places, things that would still exist today or are a complete figment of Cline’s imagination. It allows for her to reference these places in a dream-like manner, memories being looked back upon rather than being experienced in real time. It is a great device for ensuring that the reader finds the plot and settings to be believable, and it certainly works here. Not once do I question how Cline knows what this place and time is like in spite of her young years.

My comments

At first, I struggled with some of the language, there were a couple of phrases early on which really threw me and tripped me up; this did rather surprise me as I am an avid reader with a very good grasp of the English language. After googling them (don’t judge me, we all turn to google sooner or later) I discovered that I was not the only person who struggled with a couple of the phases, perhaps these were local colloquialisms which are lost on anyone, not from North California.

Later on in the book, I found it hard to follow a couple of the passages, the switching between the present, in the moment and the past is blurred in some areas. I am usually a fan of this type of device in story telling but I did find there were some rather obvious mixings and muddling of the two timelines which made the story hard to follow. I feel like one of the first rules of story telling is not to confuse the reader, although perhaps I am being a little harsh as really all it did was to alienate me a little further at a point in the story where teenage angst and drama are going to be alienating to anyone not currently a teenager. We’ve all been through it but looking back on it is hard and painful for most of us, not something comfortable to do.

I really did find that a lot of the feelings and emotions which Cline focuses on in this book are familiar to me and I’m sure will be for many other readers. The idea of being attracted to someone of the same sex and struggling to overcome your own anxieties too, not only become friends but to increase your friendship with that person is a strong feeling felt by most of us at one time or another. Cline depicts these feelings in a very descriptive manner which really allows you to relate to the character of Evie.

Regardless of the fact that Evie is the center piece in this story, you can’t help but dislike her. At times she comes across a whiny and spoiled, she acts as if she is the injured party when really she makes her own luck and struggles to deal with the consequences of her decisions. Suzanne, another centerpiece is the ultimate anti hero; you find yourself drawn to her by the power of the images portrayed by Evie and yet you are aware from the beginning that there is something not quite right. She is sexual and sensual in ways that Evie has only dreamed of, but there is something deeper and darker. Cline writes her incredibly well, you find yourself missing her when Evie misses her and hating her when Evie does.

The Manson-like character is well written and it is through Evie’s descriptions that you see his flaws and humanity where others only see him as a deity to worship. It is Evie who sees through him and ensures that you, the reader, also see’s him as he really is.

If asked if I’d recommend this book, it would most definitely depend on who was asking. It is a brilliant book, well written with a great story, characters who are flawed and real but it’s really not a book for everyone. I believe that some people would struggle, not only with the subject matter but also with the intensity of the emotion experienced by the characters.

About the Author

Emma Cline is from California. Her fiction has appeared in Tin House and the Paris Review. She was the recipient of the 2014 Paris Review Plimpton Prize for fiction and is a Granta Best Young American Novelist.

Book Description – Amazon

The bestselling debut that took 2016 by storm – a brilliant coming-of-age story with a dark heart: ‘This book will break your heart and blow your mind’ Lena Dunham

From the Inside page

California. The summer of 1969. In the dying days of a floundering counter-culture a young girl is unwittingly caught up in unthinkable violence, and a decision made at this moment, on the cusp of adulthood, will shape her life…”This book will break your heart and blow your mind.” (Lena Dunham). Evie Boyd is desperate to be noticed. In the summer of 1969, empty days stretch out under the California sun. The smell of honeysuckle thickens the air and the sidewalks radiate heat. Until she sees them. The snatch of cold laughter. Hair, long and uncombed. Dirty dresses skimming the tops of thighs. Cheap rings like a second set of knuckles. The girls. And at the center, Russell. Russell and the ranch, down a long dirt track and deep in the hills. Incense and clumsily strummed chords. Rumours of sex, frenzied gatherings, teen runaways. Was there a warning, a sign of things to come? Or is Evie already too enthralled by the girls to see that her life is about to be changed forever? –This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

 

Reviews on Amazon

“A coming-of-age tale like no other … the book of the summer” (Grazia) – too true

“Stunning…thrilling… A spectacular achievement” (The Times)

“This book will break your heart and blow your mind” (Lena Dunham) – I’d agree with breaking your heart, it is an emotional, thought-provoking book which is highly relatable.

“The read of the summer” (India Knight Sunday Times)

“A tense and claustrophobic read” (Stylist) – most definitely. If you are not prepared for it then it can seriously take you by surprise, but I found the claustrophobic nature of this book to be part of its charm.

“Taut, beautiful and savage, Cline’s novel demands your attention” (Guardian) – agreed

“An exhilarating read” (Emma Healey, author of Elizabeth is Missing) – perhaps because of the stuttering way in which I read this book, I’m not sure that exhilarating is quite how I’d describe it

“Darker than anything Gone Girl had to offer” (Shortlist) – now this I do not agree with. Gone Girl is a brilliant book with many twists and turns. Both books are dark in their nature but the subject matter differs drastically and the darkness of ’The Girls’ seems to reside in the knowledge that this is not pure fiction but is based on actual events which occurred.

“A seductive and arresting coming-of-age story…spellbinding” (New York Times Book Review) – seductive it most certainly is.

“An intensely atmospheric story that perfectly captures the aching loneliness and longing of a teenage girl.” (Sarra Manning Red) – so much so. It left me dismally reminiscing about my adolescence and the angst and sadness which goes hand in hand with growing up.

“One of the best novels I’ve read about female adolescence… And as with so many novels about cults, The Girls is set to inspire a cultish devotion all of its own” (Evening Standard) – by far one of the best I’ve read.

“A joy to read… Intense, clever, beautiful” (Sunday Times)

“Brimming with intelligence and ideas… Buy it for the Mansonesque plot but savour it for its insights” (Irish Times) – many a true word. This is exactly how I came across it and exactly how it became one of my favourite reads in a year or so.

“I don’t know which is more amazing, Emma Cline’s understanding of human beings or her mastery of language.” (Mark Haddon) – her understanding of human beings is incredible. Her depiction of the emotions and subtleties is sublime.

Overall score

4/5

Would certainly recommend. In fact, it is already being lent out and I have several friends waiting to read it. Somewhat slow-paced but perfect for a summers afternoon reading in the garden with a nice cup of tea and a digestive or two.

Night School – 21st Jack Reacher Novel by Lee Child Review

Night School – Lee Child

Night School – Jack Reacher, Lee Child

This book has been hailed as the ‘best Jack Reacher yet’ which is a very high accolade indeed. Night School is the 21st novel in the Jack Reacher series; all be it a prequel set in 1996 when Reacher is just 35 years of age.

I’m not going to lie to you; it is a good one. A book I enjoyed immensely. Easy to pick up and read anywhere, anytime.

Lee Child is a master at working in time limits to his work, and this book is no different, in fact, Child sets the timer running at the beginning of the novel. Admittedly we, the reader do not know the time limit but then neither do Reacher or the team he is working with, and this adds immensely to the drama and allows for a fast paced, action packed novel, all be it one with intricate levels of detail.

Outline

Reacher, fresh from a medal winning mission, is sent back to school. But in true Jack Reacher style this is no ordinary school, set in 1996, Night school harks back to the pre 9/11 days when intelligence agencies in the US were suspicious of each other and cooperation was at an all time low. Add to that their deep rooted suspicion of every other country and their intelligence agencies.  There was none of this inter-agency coordination or cooperation, and Reacher has to cross these lines and force cooperation both inter-organisationally and internationally in order to deal with the threat of weapons falling into the wrong hands in a foreign country.

My comments

By novel 21, you would expect Child to have a greater understanding of the inner workings of his character, and this book does not disappoint, I’m almost jealous of the relationship that Child has with Reacher, it’s as though Reacher writes himself. Not once do you question the authenticity of a response or a reaction, nor do you question his motive. You believe that Reacher is a real man whom Child knows and who has recounted his story to be laid bare on the page, in a way it’s as if Reacher guides Child through the story and not the other way around.

I find that all good Reacher stories are just a ‘day in the life’ kind of view of his life. Night School is no different; although the events which unfold are the workings of a great Thriller or Action movie, not once do you question why and how these things are happening to him. Child’s natural way with language and the familiarity with the character make this story completely believable, in spite of the sometimes crazy situations which the character gets himself into, and makes this book a delight to read.

And don’t worry if you haven’t read any of Lee Child’s previous work; each Jack Reacher book can be read alone. Sure it helps to know Reacher’s motivation in certain scenarios, but Child keeps the back story references to a minimum and fully explains to the reader any elements that may be relevant and necessary to know, as and when they occur. I myself have only read 3 of the 21 in this series, but would not shy away from picking up any of those 21 books and reading them out of order. It is a testament to Child’s talent that he can not only produce a massively successful series of books, of which two have been made into successful blockbusters; also that he does not isolate his audience by assuming pre-knowledge of the character.

Reacher 2012

Reacher – Never go back 

Blurb

It’s just a voice plucked from the air: ‘The American wants a hundred million dollars.’

For what? Who from? It’s 1996, and the Soviets are long gone. But now there’s a new enemy. In an apartment in Hamburg, a group of smartly dressed young Saudis are planning something big.

Jack Reacher is fresh off a secret mission. The army pats him on the back and gives him a medal. And then they send him back to school. A school with only three students: Reacher, an FBI agent, and a CIA analyst. Their assignment? To find that American. And what he’s selling.

Night School takes Reacher back to his army days, but this time he’s not in uniform. With trusted sergeant Frances Neagley at his side, he must carry the fate of the world on his shoulders, in a wired, fiendishly clever new adventure that will make the cold sweat trickle down your spine.

Of course, it is Reacher who excels at school and makes headway in uncovering the plot and bringing down the bad guy. While the others get bogged down in bureaucracy, it is Reacher’s forward planning and ‘thinking outside the box’ which saves the day, with of course a little help from his friends and fellow class mates.  Come on you knew it was going to end well, no spoilers there.

My version of the book also included the first three chapters of ‘The Midnight Line’ due out November 2017, and I have to say, I’m hooked already. It is already on my pre-order list, just in time for Christmas.

As well as a short essay by Child himself, which I have to say I found very sobering after the excitement of the last few chapters of the book. A poignant message about story telling and fiction through the ages.

Other reviews

Although I quite liked this book and would recommend as an easy read for anyone looking for a bit of action in their literature, since finishing the book, I have read several scathing reviews, many from uber-fans of Child’s work. Perhaps where it appealed to me, it ostracised some of his avid fans. There was one particular comment which I did want to point out though:

“I have the feeling that this book was written with American(USA) readers in mind as there are many instances of American rubbing in Germany’s defeat in WW and belittling them. I am neither from Germany nor USA, but I still feel it wasn’t on [the] comfortable side of nationalism.”

[Source]

I’m not going to lie; the guy does have a point here. Being British and so not really overtly represented in the cast list for this book, and also perhaps because I read an awful lot of American authors and so don’t find this level of patriotism to be unfamiliar; I wasn’t really affected by this over patriotism to the USA. However, after reading this review and looking back, I can certainly see what he means. The Germans are portrayed in a rather sinister light at points with their ‘smarts’ being undermined at every turn (well almost every turn). Strange though that this level of patriotism to the USA be so vivid as Lee Child himself in actually British, all be it now living in America, perhaps Reacher’s voice was a little too loud for Child to ignore on this point.

My verdict

Overall score: 3.5/5

I would recommend as a good read. Pick up and put down anywhere anytime. It was my ‘read in the bath’ novel of the month. No scary house ‘breaking and entering’ scenes so safe to read alone. Fast paced so easy to glide from chapter to chapter and lose yourself for a few hours of self-indulgence. Not a great work of art but a well-orchestrated story and character development. A good plot which seemed to be quite water tight. A little over patriotic to the USA but hey it’s a book about US military, there was bound to be a bit of peacocking going on.