SHORT & SWEET REVIEW: LEAVING TIME BY JODI PICOULT

Note, the format of my Short and Sweet reviews differs in that they simply comprise the book blurb and a short response (hence, the short and sweet). Sometimes I have too many books to do a full-length review. At other times, like now, tennis elbow and other family issues mean I have to adjust my priorities, and as such, I’m saving longer reviews for Australian authors.

Leaving Time

I’ve been a Jodi Picoult fan for years. Her books have a tried-and-tested multi-viewpoint style that varies little, but as a formula for examining the wider dimensions of a topical issue it works. You don’t just get one perspective on an issue, but multiple, often sharply contrasting views; you get the for and the against … and most times, your existing perceptions are challenged. In Leaving Time, her latest novel, she explores love, grief and memory as they relate to humans and elephants, but takes readers down a path that’s somewhat unexpected. Here’s the blurb:

Alice Metcalf was a devoted mother, loving wife and accomplished scientist who studied grief among elephants. Yet it’s been a decade since she disappeared under mysterious circumstances, leaving behind her small daughter, husband, and the animals to which she devoted her life. All signs point to abandonment – or worse. Still Jenna – now thirteen years old and truly orphaned by a father maddened by grief – steadfastly refuses to believe in her mother’s desertion. So she decides to approach the two people who might still be able to help her find Alice: a disgraced psychic named Serenity Jones, and Virgil Stanhope, the cynical detective who first investigated her mother’s disappearance and the strange, possibly linked death of one of her mother’s coworkers. Together these three lonely souls will discover truths destined to forever change their lives. Deeply moving and suspenseful, Jodi Picoult’s 21st novel is a radiant exploration of the enduring love between mothers and daughters.

And here are some snippets:

There is no question that elephants understand death. They may not plan for it the way we do; they may not imagine elaborate afterlives like those in our religious doctrines. For them, grief is simpler, cleaner. It’s all about loss. (p55)

and

Logic says that if I have been right – if my mother never would have willingly left me – then she would have come for me. Which, obviously, she didn’t. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that one out. And yet. If she were dead, wouldn’t I know it? I mean, don’t you hear those stories all the time? Wouldn’t I feel like a piece of me was gone? (p115)

Leaving Time is pretty true-to-form Picoult that reminds me very much of a famous Hollywood movie … but if I say which one, I’ll give away the spoiler. This one took me into unfamiliar territory of psychics and spirit guides, but also into the world of elephants and the way they grieve, bond, remember and forgive. It was this aspect I found most fascinating; not only does it give weight and depth to Picoult’s personal concern for the worldwide plight of elephants, but it’s an effective awareness raiser. I’m guessing many readers will visit the website Picoult mentions at the end for more information. The fictional elephants were based on true and heartbreaking stories from an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee … and heartbreaking is the right word. Picoult does a sensitive job telling these tales in a way that weaves through and enhances the story of Alice, Jenna, Serenity and Virgil.

Once again, Picoult doesn’t disappoint and pulls off her expected surprise (now there’s an oxymoron) ending; in hindsight, the clues are there but so easily missed. I did wonder when I began where the emphasis should go in the title – is it Leaving Time? Or Leaving Time? The answer – it’s both. Overall, I’d say this doesn’t reach the heights of The Storyteller (that one blew me away), but it’s a good, fast-paced read. Fans will enjoy it.

Available from good bookstores (RRP $32.99). My advance copy was courtesy of The Reading Room and Allen & Unwin.

Bookish treat: Some home-made rum balls were consumed during the reading of this