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Tuesday, 19 December 2017

‘She's Not There’ by Joy Fielding

Published by Zaffre,
14 December 2017.
ISBN: 978-1-78576-275-8 (PB)

It must be every parent's nightmare to go and check on a child and find she simply isn't there. Remember the haunted faces of Kate and Gerry McCann, when their daughter Madeleine went missing back in 2007? This taut, sometimes harrowing family drama carries strong echoes of that news story, and I can't begin to imagine the kind of hell any mother in a similar position must go through. And when bereft mother Caroline Shipley gets a phone call, fifteen years after toddler Samantha was snatched from her bed on a family holiday, from a girl claiming to be Samantha, the hell seems set to start all over again.

The novel switches between time frames to show how Caroline has been vilified in the press, conned by journalists, rejected by her family and shunned by potential employers – but she has never given up on Samantha. She is fragile and vulnerable, and all too aware that her state of mind lays her open to abuse, but still she hopes for the best possible outcome.

It takes an experienced novelist to bring such a painful scenario to life without descending into mawkish sentimentality; fortunately Joy Fielding is that novelist. She creates locations with a sure hand: the pleasant suburb where Caroline lives is as real as the plush Mexican resort hotel where the nightmare begins, and icy Calgary as vivid as temperate San Diego.

But mainly this is a novel about people, and the effect such a traumatic event has on both individuals and relationships. Fielding has produced a cast of characters of such variety and humanity that it's easy to be drawn into the unfolding of both past and present. Caroline herself sits at the centre of it all, surrounded by people ready to knock her down over and over. Yet over and over she gets up again, bruised and battered but shored up by that steel core of hope.

No one is one-dimensional; everyone has layers. Her exasperated ex-husband Hunter, rebellious daughter Michelle and acid-tongued mother Mary each reveal vulnerabilities of their own; her sympathetic friend Peggy occasionally loses patience with her; even the youngsters in her maths class sometimes show unexpected perception.

And then there's Lili, the seventeen-year-old who may or may not be Samantha. Her role in the story is perfectly balanced: is she, or isn't she? Like Caroline, I hoped, but didn't dare expect; that's a sure sign of skilful storytelling.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick
Joy Fielding is the New York Times bestselling author of Someone Is Watching, Now You See Her, Still Life, Mad River Road, See Jane Run, and other acclaimed novels. She divides her time between Toronto and Palm Beach, Florida.

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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