ONE STEP TOO FAR
Author: Tina Seskis
Michael Joseph RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
Most of us can admit to considering (however fleetingly) the idea of chucking it all in and running away … but few of us ever do so. Author Tina Seskis plays into those sometime (and most-likely, inadmissable) desires with her latest novel One Step Too Far, delivering a clever story about a woman who walks away from her life, leaving her responsibilities for a fresh start. Right from the start, she taps into reader prejudices about such behaviour, bringing them to the surface, only to show readers that all is not as it seems. It’s a none-too-subtle reminder not to judge before knowing the full story.
One morning, former lawyer Emily Coleman walks out of her life, leaving behind her family, home and what seemed to be a happy marriage. It wasn’t impulsive – she’d spent weeks organising things so she wouldn’t easily be found, covering her tracks as she went. In London, now known as Cat, she starts afresh, securing a place to stay, a new job and a friend in housemate, Angel. Her new life couldn’t be more different, with partying, drugs and shoplifting among the experiences her new persona experiences; at times, however, she’s wracked with guilt about leaving her family and questions whether running away was the answer to the big secret that paints her past with darkness. When her past catches up with her, she’s forced to deal with the ‘secret’, the consequences of her past choices and the long-lasting impact of her more-recent choices.
Seskis cleverly weaves in a sibling relationship fraught with tension due to jealousy and mental illness, a parental relationship characterised by an absent father and a mother with a clear favourite, and a marital relationship torn apart by an unknown event. Aside from the natural prejudices that arise from the idea of a mother leaving her child, there are hints a-plenty that leave readers guessing as to the nature of the secret, but for the most part, these serve to distract the reader from what may be more obvious clues … and the real secret. I’m usually pretty good at following the clues, but I did find myself caught by surprise with this one. In hindsight, it’s probably all there in plain sight … but like an illusionist show, the reader will be caught looking in the wrong direction when the sleight of hand (words) occurs. A second reading will likely lead to an ‘aha, there it is’ moment.
This is one of those books where it’s hard to discuss without revealing the spoiler. Not only is it about relationships and choices, but it’s also about avoidance, guilt, grief and forgiveness. There are some powerful themes here. From the perspective of adding tension, I think they were treated well, with two key messages standing out from the rest: firstly, don’t judge without knowing the full story (or, more simply, don’t judge), and secondly, wherever you go, there you are. You can run from your problems, but they will run with you … and catch up! From a structural perspective, I thought the story flowed fairly well, despite a number of flashbacks from different viewpoints. However, the phrasing was at times a little clumsy and could have been tighter. The inclusion of Angel’s back story seemed unnecessary and could have been excluded. Perhaps the idea was to use those few scenes as distraction, but to me, there were enough other ‘leads’ to follow without that. The title was well chosen – the ‘one step too far’ idea is significant on a number of levels. What are they? I’ll leave that to readers to discover.
Available from good bookstores and Penguin Books Australia. My copy was courtesy of Penguin Books.
Bookish treat: I munched on a Time Out chocolate bar as I read this. Seemed appropriate, given Emily’s time out.