In the past I have been critical of novels written in reverse chronology. Last summer I devoted a chunk of time to reading The Rocks by Peter Nichols and when I sat down to write a review of the book, I simply couldn’t. The story was great, engaging in fact, but the chronology was all wrong. I have no issue with books that give you a flash of the future at the start and then take you forward to that event, but The Rocks started with the death of the two main characters and then worked backward from that point. Somehow in the context of that novel it utterly failed me. How could you be vested in a number of romances that you know lead nowhere? Certainly there are some great moments of character revelation, but a big part of the story for me, is always hope for the future. However, any such aspirations were rendered obsolete by the way in which the novel was written and ultimately, I totally failed to see what had been achieved by writing, what would have been a perfectly good story, backward?
Similarly you may have already read my review of The Hundred-Year House by Rebecca Makkai, I admired the idea of the novel, but ultimately once I had finished the story, I wanted to read the novel forward, because I felt as though I had missed too much that was relevant.
All The Missing Girls by Megan Miranda, uses the same technique, but in this instance it really works. Certainly there are moments where you find yourself pausing, wondering if you have missed something supremely relevant, but actually that somehow just enhances the tension and insecurity of the novel itself.
The novel tells the story of Nicolette, or Nic, who has returned home for the summer to prepare her father’s home for sale. Engaged to a lawyer and endeavouring to place her past behind her, she is a woman made of secrets, all grown up but still a teenager at heart. Her father, who is succumbing to dementia, has the occasional moment of lucidity and during one of these times wrote a note to Nic saying, “That girl. I saw that girl.”. The girl in question is Corrine, Nic’s childhood friend, who ten years previously went missing, creating rifts in Nic’s life that ultimately led her to flee her hometown and leave her childhood sweetheart, Tyler behind. No sooner than Nic returns, Tyler’s new girlfriend disappears. Are the two cases intertwined or is it just coincidence? Queue reverse chronology taking us all the way back to the night of Corrine’s disappearance.
There was so much in this book to enjoy. Miranda expertly captures the sense of place, a small town where everyone is tied to everyone else, leaving no place to go. How such a town can take the very breath out of its inhabitants leaving them to close ranks and drive perceived outsiders away. Nic is a brilliantly crafted multi-dimensional character caught somewhere between who she was and who she wants to be. The backdrop of her father’s home simply adds to the oppressiveness of the situation, emphasising how her relationships with both Tyler and her brother, Daniel, have never really been able to move on from the night of Corrine’s disappearance.
The whole time I was reading this novel I hated and loved where it was going. I wanted it to stop but at the same time never finish. It provides a brilliant reminder that we can never really leave our pasts behind, no matter how much we would like to, or how many reworkings of the truth we might engage in.