THE THINGS WE NEVER SAID
Author: Susan Elliot Wright
Simon & Schuster RRP $24.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
Two tales interweave to form a whole in Susan Elliot Wright’s debut novel, The Things We Never Said. It took a little while for me to warm to the book, but once I did, I found myself engrossed as the dual narratives unfolded and then intersected, revealing secrets, lies and a tragedy that changed the lives of the main characters forever. I like the cover; a tired, perhaps confused, woman watches waves break onto the shore – it makes me wonder what she is thinking. Does she see escape in those waves? Or is she afraid they will crush her? Are they calming, stirring or overwhelming? When I dream of big waves, it usually means I’m feeling overwhelmed, so looking at this cover art, I imagine that she is overwhelmed by life, perhaps seeking a way out.
In 1964, Maggie wakes to find herself in a psychiatric ward. How did she get here? Why is she here? And who is she? As Maggie adjusts to life in this almost draconian institution, a place where it is better not to ask questions, she slowly pieces together memories … memories that include a storm and a man called Jack. The reader is taken into Maggie’s life a couple of years before her committal, revealing the circumstances that led to her current state. As her story is revealed, a heart-breaking event is exposed that makes her fragile state of mind more easily understood.
Alternate chapters share the story of Jonathan. It’s 2008 and his story begins with him attempting to tell his parents that he and his wife are expecting a child. His father is not an easy man and when he dies before Jonathan can share the news, Jonathan at first feels as though a burden has been lifted. It’s a temporary reprieve. He does not expect to feel the grief that hits him later, as memories of his father wander into his mind unbidden; nor does he expect to react to a difficult student at school in a way that results in him being charged for assault. Far from the joy he should be feeling at impending fatherhood, he is instead fighting for his career and reputation, questioning his relationship with his father, struggling in his marriage … and then a detective turns up seeking information about a cold case Jonathan is inexplicably linked to via DNA matching. When his mother reveals a long-buried secret, Jonathan is left wondering who he is … and where he comes from.
The Things We Never Said is a well-written book that ties together the two stories smoothly, with a particular emphasis on the fragility of the human psyche. The story line explores family relationships, biological and non-biological bonds, and mental strength and weakness in times of adversity in a bittersweet and moving manner, resulting in a slow moving novel with a complex flavour. I found Maggie’s story especially touching; her experiences on the whole evoked a more sympathetic response in me than Jonathan’s, even though I felt for him as his world fell apart. I didn’t connect with the characters as strongly as I would have hoped, meaning they didn’t leave a lasting impression, but overall, I liked the way their story was crafted.
Available from good bookstores and Simon & Schuster. This copy was courtesy of Simon & Schuster.
Bookish treat: Sit down and have a nice cup of tea and a biscuit while you read.