Recently, I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy of The Things We Never Said by Susan Elliot Wright from Simon & Schuster UK. After checking out the summary, I was really excited to dig in to this gem from across the pond. Reading a book that hasn’t yet been released here in the States is like being in a secret club, and I am excited to be able to share my thoughts with all of you.
While The Things We Never Said comes in at just under 400 pages, it is so jam-packed with drama and scandal that the bookbinding was almost popping off. The plot has rape, deception, love, amnesia, heartbreak, longing, and electroshock therapy! Some of these themes usually draw me into a book, keeping me up to the early morning hours. Surprisingly not even the promise of a good electroshock therapy tale could keep me up past my bed time.
The story opens in 1964 with Maggie waking up in a mental institution. At first, Maggie has no recollection of why she is there, but as time goes on little pieces of her own story come back to her. She remembers only small things at first, but it is not until she leaves the institution that she begins to pick up the pieces of her badly shattered life. The tragic story of how Maggie wound up institutionalized highlights the strength of the human spirit and how there is always the hope of a better tomorrow.
Wright presents the plot in alternating chapters between Maggie’s story in 1964 and that of Jonathan in 2008. We meet Jonathan and his pregnant wife Fiona as they prepare for the changes and challenges that parenthood will bring. Early in the story Jonathan learns about the death of his father, with whom he had a rocky relationship. In attempting to console his mother, Jonathan finds that strictly guarded family secrets emerge. When a detective rings Jonathan’s doorbell days later he is forced to face these family secrets head on.
Slowly, Maggie and Jonathan’s stories intertwine to reveal the dark past they share (don’t worry, there aren’t any spoilers here!) Wright’s prose reads like a poem and flows very smoothly, especially as she connects the past and the present through Maggie and Jonathan’s stories. Family secrets are far from a new theme in the literary world, but Wright throws curveballs which keep the storyline fresh and push the reader to turn the page.
Overall I found the plot very slow-moving, and despite the highly emotional content I failed to connect with any of the characters. I’m not completely sure if it is the self-loathing nature of the characters or the inability of the author to truly develop the characters that caused me to experience this disconnect. Personally, I really like to be able to root for characters when I read a book, and I felt like I had to keep turning the page just to get to the point. I think it took a little too long for the two stories (Maggie’s and Jonathan’s) to really connect. For most of the first half of the book I was a little frustrated waiting for the two lives to converge.
I think Wright’s work it is absolutely a worthy read as she is able to breathe new life into the theme of family secrets. However, I don’t suggest it as a “beach read” on a sunny weekend afternoon. I would definitely recommend this book as a good rainy day read. Don’t be fooled by that absolutely stunning cover featuring a young lady in a red dress gazing out to the ocean. It’s definitely a somber read due to the sullen nature of the plot. I encourage you to stick with it though despite the slow start, the pay off is well worth it!
3 out of 5 Stars
The Things We Never Said by Susan Elliot Wright
Simon & Schuster UK (2013)
Paperback: 400 pages
Special thanks to Simon & Schuster UK for my review copy!