Century | 2017 (27 July) | 432p | Review copy | Buy the book
Ellie disappeared ten years ago when she was just fifteen years old. A popular and very clever girl, she was about to sit her GCSEs – her future was ahead of her. And then she was gone. Ellie’s disappearance changed her family forever, with her mother Laurel and father Paul trying to deal with her loss in their own ways while her sister and brother have to cope not just with the grief of it but also the devastation of knowing that their mother has lost the child she loved the most. Guilt is such a big part of the grief and it has endured for years. But now, all these years on, something happens to give Laurel the kick she needs to move her own life on again – she falls in love with Floyd, a charismatic and handsome stranger.
It isn’t long before Laurel is spending all of her spare time with Floyd and the day comes soon when she accompanies him home to meet his two daughters. And when she meets Poppy, Floyd’s lovely, curious and precocious nine-year-old daughter, time stops. Poppy is the spitting image of Ellie when she was that age. As Laurel finds herself increasingly drawn into the arms of Floyd’s family, the questions that used to obsess her about Ellie’s disappearance return with a vengeance.
Then She Was Gone is the first novel by Lisa Jewell I’ve read but I soon knew it wouldn’t be the last. She most certainly knows how to tell a good tale. The writing is superb as is her characterisation and it’s this that pushes Then She Was Gone into another class of psychological thrillers. I love the way that the narrative moves around between key characters, also shifting between the present and the events of ten years ago when Ellie vanished out of the lives of those who loved her so much. It’s hugely accomplished.
The novel is driven most of all by character. The story itself is such a good one but it’s quite possible that you, like me, will guess much of what happens. At first I was slightly disappointed by this, hoping that I’d made a mistake and some great twist was on the way to confound me, but on reflection I realise that this was entirely the wrong attitude. Perhaps I’ve been conditioned by reading far too many psychological thrillers! What matters here is the story of Laurel, her family, Floyd and his. It’s superbly done. It’s very emotional and sensitively handled. Laurel in particular is a marvellous character, learning to cope with great trauma while also dealing with people so close to her who don’t quite know how to handle her.
Poppy is an absolute delight. She’s vulnerable and tiny but so courageous. She can be irritating but Laurel knows just how to handle her and the relationship between the two is wonderful, as is Laurel’s troubled relationship with her other daughter Hanna. I liked these people a great deal.
Then She Was Gone is a very difficult novel to put down. So well written, it insists you keep reading, immersing you in the story of these people’s lives while always reminding us, and them, of the beautiful, clever, funny and loving Ellie. It’s time the truth was told.