Titan Books | 2017 (11 July) | 423p | Review copy | Buy the book
On 16 July 1996, 17-year-old Julie Rouane left her home in Cheshire telling her mum and younger sister Selena that she was off out to see a friend. Julie didn’t come home. Twenty years later, Selena picks up the phone to hear Julie’s voice on the other end. Julie’s back. And what a story she has to tell. Julie tells Selena that she has spent the years away on Tristane, a distant planet, and there she lived another life, with another set of friends who insisted that she had been born on Tristane and not on this strange planet Earth that preoccupies Julie’s mind.
But Julie’s absence deeply affected the lives of those left behind, including those who were suspected by the police or media of having been involved in her disappearance and likely murder. None were hurt more than Julie’s family, particularly her father.
The Rift fills in those missing years by moving between the perspectives of both sisters, focusing in particular on Selena who now has to pick up the pieces once more. But their narratives are complemented by other bits and pieces – newspaper articles, letters, extracts from fiction and non-fiction, diary entries – which aim to throw light on the devastating impact of Julie’s disappearance while also recreating before us the planet of Tristane. It’s a powerful tale. We’re removed from the reality of what happened by the unreliability of our narrators. The evidence is before us and it’s up to us to rearrange it into order. There are a multitude of possibilities and each at some point pulls us towards it.
This is one of those novels that crosses genres. If I had to categorise it, then I’d probably say that it’s a clever and rewarding psychological thriller but there is a science fiction element to it that I found very appealing. Tristane is presented to us in an unassuming and non-sensational manner and there is a real melancholy to it, a touch of the tragic and a sense of loss. I would have liked more of this but what there was I really enjoyed.
The Rift is a beautifully written novel about dealing with loss and coping with trauma – I found the story of the sisters’ father especially moving. Both Selena and Julie have fascinating stories to tell and, when they come together to try and come to terms with their renewed relationship, I was gripped. This is powerful stuff mixed with the exotic of Tristane, the allure of love and the sinister beauty of some of the novel’s settings on Earth. It’s a haunting read and one that rewards our questions.