I read Linda Green’s previous novel because I knew exactly where it was set. I was completely familiar with the park in which a little girl goes missing. In this book I was on slightly less familiar ground – I know bits of Leeds but have rarely been to Mytholmroyd (although I am always amused by the fact that it rarely got a mention in the National news during the floods of December 2015 – too hard to pronounce when Hebden Bridge is so much easier…). Anyway, it is still good to be reading fiction in really mainstream genres, like psychological thrillers, which are set outside of London (or the USA).
The book on one hand follows the love story of Jess – a feisty, take-no-prisoners, kind of girl in her early 20s – and Lee, a little older, working in PR, sophisticated and relatively well-off. And at first it seems like an amazing, whirlwind romance but suddenly Jess starts to see strange posts on Facebook, dated 18 months in the future, full of outpourings of grief. What shocks her is that her friends and family are grieving for her death. In their posts she can see the remains of her life mapped out before her – marriage, a beautiful baby and then, suddenly, a brutal, and possibly suspicious death. But no-one else can see the posts, she can’t even take a screen shot or photo of them: is she losing her mind? She has a history of mental health problems – having a breakdown after the death of her beloved mother when she was just 15 – but she is sure that this message from the future is real.
This is a pacy and well-plotted novel which touches on issues of parental love, domestic violence, public mourning via social media and mental health. It certainly made me think about whether the course of our lives is fixed. Do we move blindly into our future or can we shape it ourselves? Even as the book drew to its conclusion I couldn’t tell if Jess would succumb to the life that Facebook was showing her or whether she would find the strength to fight for herself and for her beloved baby. If you enjoyed Gone Girl and its imitators then give Linda Green a try. Even if you can’t pronounce Mytholmroyd…
I’m sure I have mentioned before that I love to read books set in places that I visit but sometimes reading about familiar places does more than just enhance your reading pleasure. In fact, in the case of Linda Green’s latest novel, it completely freaked me out at points. Of course, as I shall explain, that is down to my own experiences as much as it is the story itself.
The plot, in brief, concerns a busy young mum who loses her child while playing hide and seek in a local park. Every parent’s worst nightmare is explored in detail – the anger, disbelief and panic when realisation hits; the actions of the police, the public and the press; the false alarms and the sleepless nights. Interestingly, and this could be a spoiler but it becomes apparant a short way into the book, that in a Columbo-like way we see the story both from the point of view of the missing girl’s family and from that of the person who has her.
The book explores the way families work – real families in a very real world. Everyone is there – parents, children, grandparents and even the in-laws – and we see the parent-child relationship from both sides (and at many ages from pre-school to adult). What make it stand out among psychological thrillers, currently a hugely popular genre, in that what keeps you gripped isn’t action, violence or perversion but characters who are painfully real, with realistic flaws and fears.
So. Where does my experience come into it? Not from experience of motherhood or loss – I don’t have any children – but from the setting. This book is set in Halifax, a town I frequently walk to from my home on a day off, and, more specifically, the key events take place in and around a local park which I know really well. I have visited the park, the butterfly house and even the ice-cream van and I could envisage the setting for so many of the events in the novel. Of course, this should just be interesting to me as a familiar place but I do get a hint of something darker. The child in this story is a bright, forthright four year old looking forward to her first day of school – and I can’t help but think of the child of good friends who I have spent happy hours with in this particular park. She’s four. And looking forward to starting school…This is a book which can make a non-parent really understand what motherhood can be like.