"In Her Wake" Amanda Jennings
I approached this book with slight trepidation as the back cover and first few pages are absolutely rammed with glowing reviews from all the best psychological thriller writers and bloggers. Words like "exquisite", "haunting", "mesmerising", "atmospheric" and "immersive" litter each of their quotes and I wondered how a book with such accolade would manage to match my expectations.
I had nothing to worry about!
Well, other than that it is impossible to find any new adjectives or succinct phrases to sum up my reaction to this novel!
I raced through this despite its 364 pages and small print! The chapters are very short and alternate between Bella's narrative- set in the present - and then the narrative of Henry Campbell, which jump backwards and forwards through the preceding years as the reader gradually puts together all the pieces in the jigsaw and finally sees the full heartrending and deeply chilling ending.
I enjoyed the fact that although this most defiantly is a psychological thriller, it is a little different. The main perpetrators of the crime are dead and Bella is haunted by ghosts, memories and secrets which are as threatening as any shadowy figure hiding in the dark alleyways. The characters are complicated, multi-layered, damaged and unsuspectingly terrifying.
Jennings takes her time developing the characters so that they are authentic; their motives, behaviour and emotional fragility presented with care and deliberation so that the story remains compelling rather than melodramatic. Jennings manages the complex web of threads with impressive control, revealing details, twists, conversations and feelings with a precision that ensures tension and suspense throughout the entire novel. Some of Jennings' description of Bella's memories of life in the "Old Vicarage" reminded me of Elizabeth Haynes thrillers and the sense of claustrophobia, control and duplicitous behaviour was palpable. I was desperate for Bella to see the parallels between her childhood and marriage as her new relationship with Alice and Dawn help her realise her capabilities and give her the self confidence of which she has stripped for so long.
The theme of abuse is really intriguing in this book. The reader is invited to really consider its different guises - from the obvious, to the menacingly stealthy.
The last chapters are extremely compelling. I was utterly hypnotised by Jennings' writing as I tried to keep up with the rapid revelations and final few twists. I loved the ghostly atmosphere of the book and how formidable and unnerving some of the characters were.
"In Her Wake" didn't feel like a "Grip Lit" read even though it clearly is. It felt more like a story about families, motherhood, love, and the lengths people can be driven to under extreme pressure and after suffering immense loss and trauma. There are plenty of fascinating questions to ask about the motives of some characters (can't be too specific without spoiling it for anyone who has not read it yet!) and how we decide to judge them. As one reviewer comments, Jennings' skill is in her ability to "put her character's motivations and behaviour under the microscope, magnify the darkest, most unpalatable workings of the human psyche whilst balancing a clever sympathy for the main characters."
This book reminded me a little of "The Light Between the Oceans" in terms of some of the emotional trauma, but is actually much more deeply twisted. It probably was not the right choice for an afternoon on the beach but I thoroughly enjoyed becoming lost in Bella's journey. I found myself immersed in her personal journey, fully involved in her attempts to reconcile what she knows with what she thought she knew and as afraid of the next blurred memory as she was herself.
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