Deborah Stone’s novel begins with Joe telling us, from beyond the grave it quickly transpires, that he and his wife, Annie, have much to regret, that they hid the truth at many points in their lives. The consequences of what has been left unsaid are played out in this story, often to devastating effect. Annie has been scarred by her experiences whilst a wartime evacuee, and this has had an impact on those around her, particularly her daughter, Sasha. Stone has the ability to make us really care about her characters, and whilst Annie isn’t awfully likeable, I was very moved by her part of the story.
I also liked the way that Stone has made use of Joe’s voice, creating a somewhat detached perspective and enabling us to see behind Annie’s version of events. In the early part of the novel, it is his sections which provide the most thought-provoking passages and observations and life and about aging. Describing Annie, he says, ‘Inch by inch, she concertinas in on herself, her back bent into a permanent question mark.’ He is also there as a backdrop to his daughter’s struggles with her teenage son, Zac – ‘the young love to test the old. Day by day, they snap the tiny threads which bond you to them.’ This new perspective allows Stone the chance to offer us the bigger picture, to track through the more day-to-day issues Sasha faces as her life becomes increasingly fractious.
Stone’s writing really zings when she moves back into her characters’ memories – Annie’s are particularly well-written, and the transitions between the past and present are deftly handled. Long-held secrets and silences drive the plot forward and I liked the structure of it all. Stone makes the point that truth will always out, and, for the most part, is the best solution to a crisis. But families are tricky things and the truth can be difficult to accept. This is a thoughtful debut novel about the difficulties and joys of parenting, and the difficulties and joys a child faces in negotiating their relationship with a parent who is not perfect.