Published by Viking, Jan 2018 (paperback), 336 pages, £6.99
A carefully constructed story about mother-daughter relationships, paranoia, and trust. Emma Healey has a talent for exposing the disturbing nature of a fragmented family.
I was blown away by her debut, Elizabeth is Missing, but felt tepid about this second novel. The pacing was slower and it found it hard to empathise with some of the characters.
Lana, a teenage girl, goes missing during an art retreat in the country. After a few days, she is found by the police, to the relief of her parents. However, she cannot remember what happened during her time away or to her mother’s suspicion, is deliberately hiding something. So her mother, Jen, keeps probing her, hoping that she would open up. She goes through multiple theories, thinking up all kinds of solutions to engage with her daughter. At the same time, Lana becomes more distant and begins to change her habits, as if her character is distorted. Jen is certain something happened and begins comparing her relationship with her daughter before and after the incident, her paranoia driving the whole family mad.
To an impressive degree, Healy creates a quietly turbulent situation, where nothing is quite right. But we can’t quite put our finger on what exactly is wrong. Everything is hanging in suspense, the bonds between the family are barely being kept together, but not broken yet. Instead of chapters, it’s structured in episodes, flash backs, random thoughts- reflecting the shards of memories and suspicions the mother has to piece together. However, it felt too fragmented and left me grappling with what concept to focus on. I found it tricky to get a fuller understanding of the characters; Lana felt too mysterious and Jen started to get quite frustrating. During traumatic times, you would expect anyone to be more than frazzled, but her lack of strength was more annoying than endearing.
The ending was interesting, not the gut-pull Elizabeth is Missing had, but a quieter inward revelation which is chilling in its own way. Unfortunately, the route the novel took to get to the final point perhaps undermined the impact it should have had.
Thank you so much to Georgia Taylor from Viking for my copy