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Friday 21 July 2017

‘Then She Was Gone’ by Lisa Jewell

Published by Century,
27 July 2017.
ISBN: 978-1-78089641-0 (HB)

Every mother's nightmare: a child goes missing, and no trace is ever found.

Laurel Mack's nightmare began ten years ago, and has just reached a conclusion; a buried rucksack has been identified as the one her teenage daughter Ellie was carrying on the last morning she was seen, then a DNA match was provided by some bones found close to it. Laurel's fractured family comes together for a funeral, and Laurel begins to think there might be a future for her after all.

But the nightmare is about to take another turn. Laurel falls in love – and her new partner's nine-year-old daughter Poppy is the spitting image of Ellie at the same age. Questions stack up, and suddenly the foundations of Laurel's newly rebuilt life don't seem quite so secure.

The plot and the timeframe twist and turn as the truth about what happened to Ellie gradually unfolds, told from several points of view, with clever interleaving of flashbacks, first-person narration and present-and past-tense sequences. Lisa Jewell is adept at juggling styles in a way that brings the characters to vivid life.   

The characters in this tangled tale are very much centre stage; another of Jewell's skills is portraying the way tragedy can tear a perfectly functional family apart, and each member of it comes across loud and clear. Ellie was the golden girl, the focus of everyone's life, and her disappearance has affected everyone profoundly. Laurel's emotions have atrophied, and she can't move beyond that appalling day. Her husband Paul can't cope with the way she opts out of family life. Hanna and Jake, Ellie's siblings cut themselves off from Laurel, emotionally if not physically. Only her mother Ruby, confined to a care home after a severe stroke, can see beyond the grey, one-day-at-a-time existence to which Laurel has condemned herself. The various locations in which the narrative takes place are equally well realized; a soulless apartment and a seedy house with a dank basement will stay in my mind for a long time.

When Ellie's remains are found, and Laurel's life seems to start again, the wounds begin to heal, until... But any more information about what happens next would be a major spoiler.

Enough to say this is a book that will keep you up till well past bedtime.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Lisa Jewell was born in London in 1968. She was educated at a Catholic girls’ Grammar school in Finchley. After leaving school at sixteen she spent two years at Barnet College doing an arts foundation course and then two years at Epsom School of Art & Design studying Fashion Illustration and Communication. She worked for the fashion chain Warehouse for three years as a PR assistant and then for Thomas Pink, the Jermyn Street shirt company for four years as a receptionist and PA. She started her first novel, Ralph’s Party, for a bet in 1996. She finished it in 1997 and it was published by Penguin books in May 1998. It went on to become the best-selling debut novel of that year. She has since written a further nine novels, as is currently at work on her eleventh. She now lives in an innermost part of north London with her husband Jascha, an IT consultant, her daughters, Amelie and Evie.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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