Monday, 2 May 2016
"All is Not Forgotten" Wendy Walker
The premise of Walker's novel is that teenager Jenny Kramer is brutally raped while at a house party in the seemingly perfect and respectable suburbs of the town of Fairview. Her parents are offered a chance to give Jenny some pioneering treatment for PTSD patients - a drug which will eradicate her memory of the event- an offer they accept in a bid to protect their daughter from the horrific trauma she has been through. However, what Walker then goes on to explore is the fact that the brain may forget, but the body won't. Jenny continues to suffer emotionally, struggling to piece together scraps of memories in order to try and move forward. The repercussions of the parent's decision quickly spiral out of control.
The first thing I have to say about this book is actually how disturbing it is and how the opening section is actually quite overwhelmingly upsetting. The author depicts the rape scene in great detail and almost the first 20% of the novel is completely focused on the injuries Jenny suffers and the nature of the abuse to which she was subjected. The writing is vivid and graphic. It is good writing and it is important writing but at the same time it is intense, shocking and to a certain extent, draining. I do feel it is necessary to give readers a warning about the content.
The novel is narrated by an anonymous voice who doesn't reveal themselves until about a quarter of the way through the story. Before their revelation, it is difficult to fathom why this person has such an interest in Jenny. They seem hugely affected by what has happened to her and clearly are against the medication she has received believing she cannot heal properly without being allowed to confront her experience fully which means remembering it. What is a little unnerving is how compelled the narrator feels "to return her to what she has taken away." It does create great tension as the reader tries to work out the details about who is speaking and what is going on. I found sentences like "it became my single minded pursuit to give back her horrific nightmare" compelled me to read on. The narrator seems obsessional and it is defiantly a strange thing for someone to wish for. It is intriguing and the number of questions raised within the reader ensure we kept turning the pages avidly.
The narrator is insightful, omniscient, judgemental and full of detailed observations. Their voice is clinical, methodical, controlled and sometimes uncomfortable. Once the identity is revealed this all makes sense and is in keeping with the character's role but it does mean that I found myself a little confused about what sort of novel I was reading and slightly questioning whether the author had fully decided in which style she wanted to write. The prose contains first person monologues from the anonymous narrator about drugs, medicine, memory and the brain; recounts of events from each of the different characters told by this same narrator, transcripts taken from interviews and therapy sessions of the main characters. This is a very thorough analysis of a crime and serious exploration of the repercussions of such an event. It is also a puzzle; a jigsaw. The narrator is controlling the information they are willing to share and choosing at which point to share it. This does make it a more complex plot and the reader has to appreciate we are beholden to the narrator. It also means it is a slow read. There is immense detail. The voice gets sidetracked; it deviates, jumps around, changes the chronological order and means this is a slow burner of a read rather than your typical page turning thriller.
The characters are all flawed. Sometimes quite unlikeable. It is easy to judge Charlotte, the mother, although we are warned not to and further invited to learn more of her background and subsequently view her more sympathetically. Tom, the father, is equally fallible but the contrast in their behaviour and reactions is interesting. The author raises lots of interesting questions about parenting and about living in suburbia where reputation and appearance are of all importance. It looks at what happens when a "perfect" family and a "perfect" community is violated and shaken.
Jenny's character is also interesting. Her role allows the author to really examine the mind and how our memories work. "She had no memory of her rape but the terror lived on in her body." There is great discussion about PTSD and how physical responses are triggered, how memories live on within us even when deeply buried. Walker is clearly fascinated by the psychiatry of PTSD has clearly researched the topic in great detail.
This would probably make a good read for a Book Group. There are plenty of questions about whether you would take the drug, whether you would allow your child to take the drug as well as plenty to explore about parenting, image, teenagers and rape. It also has enough thrill and mystery to make it reasonably accessible read.
Personally I did find it a little slow and at times did become a little frustrated at being beholden to the narrator and their manipulation and presentation of events. I also found the fact that so much of the opening of the book focuses so fully on the horrific rape and medical detail that I found it hard to really engage and "enjoy" the novel in the way it deserved.
The publisher introduced this book by saying it is "a hugely original psychological thriller - just when we though there weren't any new ideas." I would agree with this descriptor and think Walker has indeed created almost a "sub genre" within this sector. I think it is unique and interesting. Her choice of narrator is original and completely changes our presumptions about these kind of stories; showing us what more can be done within this genre.
My thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for an advanced copy of this novel in return for a fair review.
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