Then She Was Gone, by Lisa Jewell – book review

then she was goneIn our little series on ‘truth’ we’ve covered fake news and untrue allegations. Today we feature a novel that reminds us that humans have a quest for truth: that not knowing can strike into our being. This novel also touches on what it might be like to not know who we are, to have our identity hidden from us. These are among the themes of Lisa Jewell’s psychological thriller Then She Was Gone, which is out later this month.

Then She Was Gone has one of the saddest endings to a novel that I’ve come across for a long time. This surprises me for a while, because to be honest I don’t really take to any of the lead characters. I suspect wizardry by the writer, who can portray the joys of the everyday and the hope and promise that is snatched away even, alongside the humdrum, the sad, the ordinary and deep personal tragedy. Even as she offers us scenes of unbearable despair, there’s a lightness to some of the prose as Jewell finds new metaphors that describe the human condition as we all live it. Every reader will know what is meant when Bonny’s voice is described as ‘beenaroundtheblock’. A death is hinted at pages before it is described, and I feel throughout that Lisa Jewell is deliberately turning up and down our emotions at will. Jewell is a gifted writer who knows exactly how to play us. Her use of multiple points of view helps, as we see things through the eyes of witnesses who may not be reliable or who – unlike us – don’t have access to the information we’ve seen.

In part, this book is about the struggle of the characters – all the characters – to come to terms with who they are. Just as the story of Amadeus pitted a bitter Salieri against a glittering Mozart, those who see themselves as mediocre resent others whom they believe to be brilliant or at least out of their league. Except that the golden people aren’t, much. And Jewell plays with our notions about whether self-loathing is something that was taught (for example, through bad parenting) or reflects something innate. There are plenty of layers, both to the truth and to the way in which it is unveiled and eventually they are all peeled away and we are left exhausted. But we can be satisfied that we have now been told the truth.

A week on from reading it, I’m still reeling, and am aware of having been made to reel. Then She Was Gone is a novel from a writer who is completely on top of her craft.

Then She Was Gone is released in the UK on 27 July 2017 and you can pre-order it here.

Here’s my review of Lisa Jewell’s latest, Watching You.

Thanks to Century for the review copy.

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