I’m currently reading and actively enjoying The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton, so why then am I sitting here and writing a review of What She Knew by Gilly MacMillan? Furthermore, why has ‘The Husband’ been sent away with What She Knew on his trip to the UK?
The answer if of course simple. I opened What She Knew, just to get a ‘taste’ for it and absolutely could not put it down until I knew whether or not Ben was safe. This is one of my ‘three day books’, a category that I reserve for those books that really do not fall into the category of great literature and yet are just the most enjoyable thing that you have done for quite a while. It’s the difference between watching the Gilmore Girls and Mad Men on television. The former is good fun, quick witted and addictive, whilst the latter leaves you wanting more, whilst pondering the very meaning of your being, both are great experiences depending on the mood you are in In essence, sometimes we all need a quick fix and this week, mine was What She Knew.
The premise is relatively simple. A single mother, Rachel, is out for a Sunday afternoon walk in the woods with her eight-year old son, Ben and their dog. In a bid to improve Ben’s independence, she allows him to run ahead to the swing in the woods. It’s the kind of decision that most parents make at least once a week, the dilemma of allowing your child to grow up a little, but not feeling entirely comfortable with it. I have a son and make such decisions all the time.
Well, I’m sure you can guess what ensues. Rachel reaches the agreed meeting spot and Ben isn’t there. A police hunt follows and a disastrous public appeal by Rachel results not only in national humiliation, but also in character assassination by the public at large. In this electronic age, when people can take to blogs to say how they feel, how is a hurting and largely unsupported parent supposed to cope?
This is exactly the type of book that, as a mother, I normally endeavour to avoid. It strikes too close to home and plays to our greatest fears and yet, I could not put it down. The characters are well developed and the structure of the novel, which changes between first person narrative and the notes of the police psychologist, was oddly compelling. Rachel’s relationships both with her ex-husband and her sister were extremely well written and plausible. Like Rachel herself, as the novel progresses, you feel the desperation. How can you find the needle in a haystack when one person is just as likely as the next to have your son. The fact that it was also set in Bristol, where I went to school, enhanced the narrative on a very personal level for me.
To conclude, I’m not going to tell you what happens to Ben, I’m just going to encourage you to spend the next three days lost in this book.