I loved Emma Healy’s debut novel, Elizabeth is Missing. When I saw this one on NetGalley I got really excited and requested it. So a big thank you for the publisher and NetGalley for providing me an ARC in exchange for an honest review. I loved this book.
This is the story of Jen and Lana, a mother and her teenage daughter. It’s mostly about Jen, always worrying, thinking for her daughter, assessing the rights and wrongs in their relationship and her decisions. Jen is a loving mum to her two daughters- Lana has a big sister called Meg-, she is an easily likable character with real worries, as a mum I can relate to her a lot.
She didn’t mind being mum to her children, of course, that was normal. But from other people – health professionals especially- it felt wrong, weird, paralysing.
One day Lana and Jen go to Peak District where the hope of a pastoral holiday turns into a nightmare for Jen, after Lana’s four day long disappearance.
Jen had a sensation of clutching at nothing, though her hands didn’t move, and she walked around the series of outbuildings, her steps weighty in the thin morning air. It was too early to believe yet, but she believed it anyway. Lana was gone.
After she is found safe and sound, Lana says she doesn’t remember anything. Nothing. Not knowing what Lana did for these four days eats Jen. The aftermath of what happened, why it happened, and how it happened haunts her. Was she with Matthew, another youth Lana befriended during their stay, or the worryingly-religious Stephen, who believes children could visit hell and come back? She wants to know, but there are no answers in Lana.
..there were thoughts Jen tried not to think when Lana was near, in case her daughter saw the questions on her face.
Jen and Lana’s relationship is explored and told masterfully mostly within Jen’s feelings, from the times Lana was a small baby to her troublesome teenage years. There is magic for Jen in her ordinary life, where she thinks she’s done a deal about Lana’s name with a stranger, or when she thinks ‘the depressed’ Lana might have been replaced, she has a quirky way of thinking which is a delight to read.
A child growing up to become a stranger is a worry for every parent. It scares me to think when my son will ask for a mobile phone for himself, for instance. The idea of him being able to communicate with everyone, anytime without any limits is frightening. The novel puts a finger on all these worries. It explores the subjects like teenage depression, the use of social media, confidence issues, family members falling apart. Healey writes about these so elegantly and naturally.
Happiness was doing everything wrong and finding that things had turned out okay, anyway. Happiness was obliviousness, it was not having to read books about adolescent mental health, it was eating dinner in front of the TV without consequences, it was buying your children mobile phones and feeding them crisps and forgetting to check with their homework. Happiness was everyone in the same room, captivated by their own digital device.
As Jen gets closer to discover what really happened to Lana; their relationship with other members of the family (Jen’s older daughter Meg, and husband/father Hugh), Lana’s depression, Jen’s worries, are deeply explored and the end comes like a long breath of relief: all the pieces connected, making up a beautifully structured story in your hands.
I love the natural and effortless style of writing,
Sometimes, Jen felt as though her daughter’s emotions hung about in the air. Irritation, exhaustion or despair lingered like a cloud of perfume, waiting to be walked through, the particles clinging to whoever passed by.
Emma Healey reminds me of Elizabeth Strout, a little bit. Writing about ordinary characters in such an interesting way is a huge talent. Elizabeth is Missing was drawing a big circle around the word Dementia, and this book is making the same for teenage depression I think. I congratulate Healey for raising awareness in these sensitive issues by writing these wonderful novels.
I also loved the name of the book.
A beautiful novel, deserving every praise. Probably one of the favourites of 2018, for sure.
Books I would recommend if you like this: Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller, Olive Kitteridge and My name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout. Happy reading!
Thanks to Netgalley and Penguin UK for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. Whistle in the Dark will be published in May 2018.