I’ve been reading a lot of Lisa Jewell books lately and they have made me realize that the reasons that I loved Lisa Jewell twenty years ago are different to why I enjoy her today. Upon reflection, I think that she has grown with me, with my own sensibilities. As I’ve aged and matured, so too has she, both as a writer but also with regard to the elements of our own lives or our preoccupations. She understands what worries the middle aged woman, what makes her think and in turn she writes about them and turns them into captivating fiction.
Two nights ago I finished her latest offering, Then She Was Gone which was just as great as the other three novels of hers that I’ve read over the last eighteen months. Ellie is a gorgeous teenager with her life in front of her when she suddenly goes missing. Unable to find any evidence to support an abduction theory, Ellie is branded a runaway by the police. Her mother Laurel, finds herself unable to function normally and struggles with her other near grown children, allowing her marriage to Ellie’s father, Paul, to fall apart. Nowadays Laurel has a life, but it’s smaller, less personal and certainly more lonely than it was. Then one day she meets Floyd in a cafe and begins a relationship with him, her first since Ellie’s disappearance. The thing is that Floyd’s daughter Poppy is the spitting image of Ellie and Laurel struggles to identify what this might mean. Is there a connection or is it Laurel’s own desperate need coming to the fore. What did happen to Ellie all those years ago?
For all the reasons that I love Lisa Jewell, I’ve also realized that I need to take a break from her for a while. I need to let it all sit for a bit and read some other writers. To my mind Then She Was Gone was a terrifying read. Losing a child is a dread of every parent, but to have one vanish fills us with indescribable fear. I’ve certainly read books with a similar theme before, but the character of the daughter Ellie, both in terms of age and disposition, reminded me so strongly of my own daughter that it made it hard to read. The kind of hard where half of you wants to put the story down, whilst the other half needs to see it through. Even the location of this story, based largely around Stroud Green Road in London, struck a chord with me, as I used to live on that very road in my early twenties.
A couple of weeks ago I finished The House We Grew Up In, which similarly made me think about my own ageing parent and how our relationships change and develop. Somehow in my mind and doubtless my mind alone, these two books have become a pair and there’s a sadness to them, a sadness that wasn’t there in quite the same way in Lisa Jewell’s earlier writing. Don’t get me wrong, I like and engage with this sense of melancholy, but sometimes you just have to stop for a while and I think now is the point for me.
Give me six months Lisa and I’ll pick up another and doubtless be transported once again.