As soon as I finished this book, I tweeted: ‘Wow. Now I have to find the words to review this in more than that one word’. I’ve left it a few days and the story is still firmly with me.
What the blurb says:
A tragic accident. It all happened so quickly. She couldn’t have prevented it. Could she?
In a split second, Jenna Gray’s world is shattered. Her only hope of moving on is to walk away from everything she knows to start afresh. Desperate to escape her past, Jenna moves to a remote cottage on the Welsh coast, but she is haunted by her fears, her grief and her memories of the cruel November night that changed her life for ever.
DI Ray Stevens is tasked with seeking justice for a mother who is living every parent’s worst nightmare. Determined to get to the bottom of the case, it begins to consume him as he puts both his professional and personal life on the line.
As Ray and his team seek to uncover the truth, Jenna, slowly, begins to glimpse the potential for happiness in her future. But her past is about to catch up with her and the consequences will be devastating . . .
Which rather cleverly (and from the perspective of someone who has now finished it), actually tells you everything and nothing all at once. At more than one point in this novel I thought I knew what I was reading and what was coming; each time I was wrong.
This novel just breaks all the rules – brilliantly and over and over again! I couldn’t put it down, despite the fact (and probably partly because) it is an intensely uncomfortable read for a variety of reasons. The first of which becomes clear very early on in the story and which I am therefore going to tell you about; I promise it will be the ONLY spoiler in this review.
The story opens with the tragic accident referred to in the blurb: ‘hit-and-run in Fishponds, guv. Five-year-old boy killed’. If, like me, you routinely avoid novels that might make you feel sad, I promise you won’t regret giving this one a go. Although the accident is the catalyst for the novel, there are SO many layers to this story: ‘I’ve told him more than I ever intended to, but I can’t tell him everything. If I do, he’ll leave, and I’ll have no one to stop me from falling’. Sooooo many questions!
Initially, the story moves between that of DI Stevens and his team investigating the accident, and that of those involved with Jacob (the five year old boy) himself. The police sections (ironically) serve as a palate cleanser in-between the faster-paced, higher-tension parts of the story. Don’t get me wrong, there are tensions there too:”‘Ray, you said no work!’ Ray was confused. ‘But the kids are in bed.’ ‘Yes, but I’m –‘Mags stopped…”. But without this part of the story, the reader would quite probably be holding their breath continually…
I honestly can’t remember the last novel I read that was comparable in terms of emotional experience. I felt all the same emotions as Jenna, deeply and compellingly. From grief: ‘Such a small impact on the world, yet the very centre of my own… The grief I feel is so physical it seems impossible that I am still living’; to anger and disgust: ‘You can’t do anything by yourself, Jennifer’; to guilt: ‘Each time a wave of fear hits me, I remind myself what I did, and that I have no right to be frightened’; and finally, complete and utter fear: ‘I will find you… Wherever you’ve gone to, I’ll find you. And then I will come for you’. Just imagine welcoming the idea of Prison, simply for the security and safety it provides. Chilling.
Later on in the story, the narrative is split further between Jenna and Ian, her husband. I would love to ask Clare Mackintosh whether writing Ian’s parts in the first person were as difficult to imagine and write as they are for the reader to read? Just incredible – infuriating, jarring and brutally honest.
I can’t talk in specifics about themes and events without spoiling the story, so I won’t. Suffice it to say, this novel will NOT let you go. Just read it.
‘You must remember that he was a boy. That he had a mother. And that her heart is breaking’.
I Let You Go on Kindle: I Let You Go