Friday, 23 September 2016
Book Review - In Her Wake by Amanda Jennings
I was late to the party with this one which is ridiculous when you consider Orenda Books are rapidly becoming one of my favourite publishers and I kept reading scores of glowing reviews. Still, better late than never and seeing how much of the book is set in Cornwall perhaps it was fitting that I read most of it while on holiday in the county.
The book begins with a haunting and mysterious prologue, a perfect amuse-bouche before the outstanding main course which begins with the immediate aftermath of loss. Bella's mother has died and she has returned to her family home with her husband. It quickly becomes apparent that Bella had an unusual upbringing with an overbearing mother, Elaine and distant father, Henry. Both Bella and Henry are lost without Elaine who was clearly the driving influence within their family but seem unable to comfort one another. It takes Henry's shocking confession of a secret hidden for decades for Bella to finally start to shake of the shackles of both her claustrophobic childhood and oppressive marriage and she flees to Cornwall where she slowly learns the truth about her past and has to come to terms with the realisation that not only was she living a lie but that the truth doesn't come with a magic wand that makes everything right. This is what makes In Her Wake such a superlative book. The mystery of Bella's past alone is a gripping story but it's the familial relationships portrayed that make this such a beautiful and poignant book. Jennings acknowledges that learning the truth doesn't mean an automatic happy ending and what you wish for can also be what you fear. Relationships and reunions are complicated and fragile, this is no Disneyfied story where everything falls into place, people are tentative, often wrong-footed and completely believable. Bella herself is a character who could so easily have been one dimensional, the wronged victim who we should feel only pity for, who sleepwalked from the controlling influence of her mother to that of her husband. Jennings, though has written a far more nuanced character. Although Bella is undoubtedly vulnerable she is also stubborn, inventive, frustrating, untruthful and compassionate. The truth itself is revealed gradually and I particularly enjoyed how Jennings employs different devices to explain what happened; from Bella's flashbacks, through the memories of others and chapters set in the past focused on Elaine and David. We are just given glimpses of what actually occurred though, scattered jigsaw pieces that only come together near the end of the book and not without a few twists.
In Her Wake is an outstanding book that combines a superb psychological thriller with a thoughtful and searingly honest look at family relationships and the deep need to understand who you are. That it's also written with such beautiful prose and with breathtaking descriptions of the Cornish scenery makes this a book that deserves every plaudit that comes its way.
In Her Wake is published by Orenda Books.