Tag Archives: identity

#BookReview ‘The Confession’ by Jessie Burton #romance #contemporary

The Confession by Jessie Burton is her third novel after The Miniaturist, her successful debut. The Confession is a contemporary romance about relationships; mother/daughter, romantic, between friends. Are daughters destined to repeat the mistakes of their mothers, even if they have never met? Jessie Burton

This is a dual timeline novel. In 2017, Rose Simmons never knew her mother, who left when she was a baby. Rose’s father has always been tight-lipped until now when he tells Rose that the famous but reclusive novelist Constance Holden may have the answers. Frightened of scaring off Constance with awkward questions, Rose instead gets a job as maid/companion for the reclusive novelist, now in her seventies and crippled by arthritis. Unexpectedly Rose comes to like and admire Connie so the longer she works for her the more impossible it is to admit to her deception [she is known to Connie as Laura Brown]. And all the time she wonders if Connie can see her mother’s face in her own. In 1982, we see the story of her mother and Connie. Part-time waitress and artist’s model Elise Morceau meets the enigmatic Connie on Hampstead Heath. When Connie’s first novel is made into a film, the two women go to LA. That’s where the lies start, the cracks appear. Connie is working, Elise is a hanger-on who learns to surf. The turning point comes when she begins to doubt Connie’s love.

At times, Elise and Rose were inter-changeable in my head. Both women are immature, unsure who they are, searching for something they cannot define except that they don’t have it. Elise is in her early twenties, while Rose is in her thirties. I had some sympathy with Rose’s boyfriend Joe and best friend Kelly who both lost patience with her. Both Rose and Elise seem to play at being adults, thinking they are the centre of the world, not understanding that their own actions also leave ripple effects that cause pain to other people. They obsess about being hurt but do not recognise the hurt they cause. Mother and daughter are both passive characters, drifting in their own lives, running away rather than confront difficult situations. Principally, the novel is about life choices, taking responsibility for one’s own life and own choices [and being passive, not making decisions, is a personal choice].

At the beginning I felt for Rose and her absence of self-identity, ‘I didn’t have a mum, and I’d never had her, so how could I miss something I’d never really lost?… I don’t tell people about the yearning. The wonder. I tell them, You can’t miss what you never had!’ But the pace of the first quarter is very slow, it picks up once Rose, aka Laura Brown, starts working for Connie in Hampstead. Ironically Rose finds her sense of self through the very mode of her deception; by creating a new personality and life for herself, assuming the face of Laura that she presents to Connie, Rose begins to understand who she is.

I expected to like this book more than I did, after really enjoying The Miniaturist. Sadly The Confession left me feeling underwhelmed.

If you like this, try:-
Ghost Moth’ by Michele Forbes
‘If I Knew You Were Going to be This Beautiful, I Never Would Have Let You Go’ by Judy Chicurel
The Girl on the Cliff’ by Lucinda Riley

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Book review: The Last of the Greenwoods

Clare MorrallClare Morrall is so good at writing about people on the margins. In The Last of the Greenwoods, Johnny and Nick Greenwood are estranged brothers who live separately in two abandoned, adjacent railway carriages; with shared kitchen and bathroom. They are adept at avoiding each other.

Nick lives in Aphrodite on the right, Johnny in Demeter on the left. Aphrodite has horizontal blinds at the windows, open at a slant so someone inside can look out but no-one outside can see in. Demeter’s windows are unknowable with permanently drawn curtains. The carriages sit amidst trees and shrubs, hidden from the main road in Bromsgrove, West Midlands. They have been the brother’s world since they were boys. Until one day, into the lives of these emotionally separated but geographically close brothers comes a letter which reignites haunted memories. “The floor is vibrating under his feet, there’s a sensation of motion, as if the train has started to move. What’s happening? Is he slipping backwards, losing his place in the present and tumbling back to the past? How can this be?”

The letter is from their older sister, Debs; the sister who was murdered when the boys were children. As the brothers consider whether the letter is real, a fake, or a joke we learn more about their background via Zohra, the postwoman who delivered the letter. Zohra has a past of her own which she tries to forget. What brings together these seemingly disparate story strands? Trains? And what effects change in the lives of the Greenwoods and Zohra? Trains.

Slowly, with exquisite and often humorous detail, Morrall unravels the mysteries of the past, building a picture of these people’s lives. They are ordinary people but in telling their story she makes them extraordinary, reminding us that the life of each of us has a story to tell and that elements of life can be repetitive. “Are they doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over again – play, replay, round and round on an endless loop?”

Running throughout is the question of verifiable identity: the woman who returns could be Deb, or Deb’s friend Bev pretending to be Debs; and who are the girls who harassed Zohra on social media, did they use their real names or not? The brothers consider how they can accept Debs, do they need evidence, DNA proof, or can they trust their instincts? And why are the two brothers not talking?

Another masterful Morrall novel. Read my reviews of After the Bombing, The Man who Disappeared, The Language of Others, The Roundabout Man, and Natural Flights of the Human Mind, all by Clare Morrall.

If you like this, try:-
‘If I Knew You Were Going to be This Beautiful, I Never Would Have Let You Go’ by Judy Chicurel
‘The Lie of the Land’ by Amanda Craig
‘Skin Deep’ by Laura Wilkinson

‘The Last of the Greenwoods’ by Clare Morrall [UK: Sceptre]

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Book review: I Found You

Lisa Jewell

Alice Lake sees a man sitting alone on a beach in the rain and invites him into her home. He has lost his memory. When Lily’s new husband doesn’t come home from work, she goes to the police for help and discovers he has a false name. A family from Croydon take a traditional English holiday by the sea. These are the three storylines in I Found You by Lisa Jewell. The common denominator is location: a northern seaside town called Ridinghouse Bay.

Two inter-connected themes run throughout I Found You. Memory – the fugue of the man on the beach, and the dementia suffered by Alice’s parents – and identity, disguised, mistaken, forgotten. Jewell is so good at writing believable characters, good at exploring human nature in a simple, accessible way. And though there is evil in this story, there is also good, kindness, humanity, heart.

The menace is subtle, building slowly from the beginning even when the connections are unclear. It’s just a feeling. Gray watches his younger sister being chatted up by Mark, an older teenager, and feels uneasy: ‘There was something just off about him. Something shadowy and cruel. There were too many angles in his face. Too much thought behind each gesture, each word, each action. Even his hair colour was too uniform, Gray felt, as though he could tug at it and mark’s whole face would come off to reveal his true identity, like a Scooby Doo villain.’

Alice is too easy to trust, it has got her into trouble before. But her least-trusting dog likes the man from the beach, who her youngest daughter names ‘Frank’. But even Frank doesn’t know if he is trustworthy. How much do you need to know about someone before you trust them? Is it dangerous to rely on instinct? Or is that the most reliable test?

Two things in the story rang untrue for me – the police today use mobile phone records and CCTV to quickly trace missing people; and the behaviour of some characters in the intervening years seems far-fetched. But that aside, this is a satisfying puzzle to solve.

Read my review of The Girls, Lisa Jewell’s first thriller.

If you like this, try:-
‘The House on Cold Hill’ by Peter James
‘The Good People’ by Hannah Kent
‘Summer House with Swimming Pool’ by Herman Koch

‘I Found You’ by Lisa Jewell [UK: Arrow] Buy now

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Book review: Beside Myself

Ann MorganA novel about identity, about identical twin sisters. Do you recognise what is fake and what is true? One sister is prettier and cleverer than the other, and she is unkind to her twin who seems downtrodden, bullied, teased and not so bright. Then a childhood prank goes wrong which affects the two girls for the rest of their lives. Helen and Ellie play a cruel trick on a neighbour, they swap clothes and re-do their hairstyles appropriately (Helen wears a plait, Ellie is in bunches) and act like the other one does – Helen assertive, Ellie cowering. It is Helen’s idea, but when it is time to swap back Ellie refuses. Beside Myself by Ann Morgan is thoughtful, at times creepy and disturbing.

The story is told from Ellie’s point of view, that is Ellie who used to be Helen.

Hellie – Ellie who became Helen – is now a TV presenter.

Helen – who is now Smudge/Ellie – is struggling with mental health problems.

Confused, I was a little.

After the switch, both girls seem to be accepted without question by friends and family, despite their obvious personality differences. Their mother has met a new man and is not taking much notice of what her daughters do. Even so, the mother’s blindness is a little hard to believe. There is a soggy section in the middle of the book with stream-of-consciousness rambles which I could have done without. I also admit at times to pausing and double-checking which girl I was reading about.

Without giving away the conclusion, it is pertinent to say there is a dramatic turning point which makes the girls revisit their childhood, the swap, and other family memories; and so as adults they make sense of who they are today. Many things are explained and, though I didn’t find either girl particularly likeable, they are much more alike than either appreciate.

This is a psychological portrait of sisters, identity and mental illness, rather than a thriller so don’t expect dramatic action.

If you like ‘Beside Myself’, try these other novels about sisters:-
‘The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes’ by Anna McPartlin
‘All My Puny Sorrows’ by Miriam Toews
‘Wolf Winter’ by Cecilia Ekback
‘Beside Myself’ by Ann Morgan [UK: Bloomsbury Circus] Buy now

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