"Dare to Remember" by Susanna Beard
Reeling from a brutal attack that leaves her best friend dead and her badly injured, Lisa Fulbrook flees to the countryside to recuperate. With only vague memories of the event, she isolates herself from her friends and family, content to spend her days wandering the hills with her dog, Riley.
However, Lisa is soon plagued, not only by vivid flashbacks, but questions, too: how did their assailant know them? Why were they attacked? And what really happened that night?
As she desperately tries to piece together the memories, Lisa realises that there's another truth still hidden to her, a truth she can't escape from. A truth that may have been right in front of her all along.I think there are a few words in the book blurb above (courtesy of Goodreads) that really capture the essence of this novel: brutal, plagued, desperate and inescapable. This novel is about a character who is terribly traumatised, falling further into depression each day as she tries to remember the real events from that evening and tries to understand how she can overcome the devastating loss of her best friend.
To me, this didn't feel like a conventional psychological thriller even though it is almost entirely a novel about the mental, emotional and psychological state of the protagonist. To me, this felt like an exploration of what it means to survive a tragic event; of what it means to suffer colossal mental anguish and what happens when you have witnessed a crime and yet have no memory of it. This is a novel that focuses on the internal journey of a character rather than the action of the criminal events they have physically been through.
Lisa wakes up in hospital; injured, confused, distressed and without any real memory of the events leading up to why she is there. Odd pieces of the jigsaw have fallen into place but large chunks remain missing. The importance of remembering what happened to Lisa and her best friend is for Lisa's own sense of sanity as much as for the prosecution.
"By the time the rest came back, it was too late to tell the police; the verdict had been handed down and the sentence passed."
But Lisa's life will never be the same. She walks away from the flat her and her friend Ali shared, from the carefree life they led and their innocent life centred around having fun and "kicking back".
"She never went back to the flat. Her previous life was reduced to a small bag of belongings. Lisa shoved it, unopened, under the bed."
Beard is able to convey the intensity of Lisa's feelings, the oppression of her anxiety and the all consuming distress she feels every single minute of her days. The narration may be in third person, but we are kept very close to Lisa and Beard is able to evoke atmosphere and tension through her well written prose.
"She would have stayed longer, but the silent pressure from her mother, the unformed questions, felt like an ever present weight on her shoulders. She was jumpy and bad-tempered. She couldn't confide in anyone for fear of making those around her even more worried."
Beard's descriptions on panic attacks, flashbacks, glimpses of memories and adverse reactions to sounds or certain objects are effective if not unbearably intense and relentless. Despite the advice of her psychotherapist and her mother, Lisa keeps herself hidden away in isolation, knowing that even in December "The malevolent spirit of her nightmares has no respect for Christmas."
Although the mystery and tension surrounding what really happened on that fateful night isn't fully disclosed until the very end of the book (and Beard maintains a satisfying degree of suspense until the last minute) it probably won't shock or surprise many readers. However that isn't Beard's goal - or at least I don't think it is. She uses characters like the psychotherapist to explore the emotional turmoil and psychological distress from which Lisa is suffering and uses things like the "Restorative Justice" scheme to look at different ways of confronting her emotions. Beard is obviously fascinated by the work of psychotherapists and the conversations between Lisa and her therapist were very authentic and convincing. I think "Dare to Remember" travels an interesting line between being a book about mental illness and the judicial system and a novel about a murder.
There is a lot of exposition in this book and there are a lot of quite dense passages. At times the scenes are quite oppressive and harrowing. The role of Lisa's neighbour is also full of tragedy and violence; there is very little respite amongst these pages. It is interesting to watch the dynamics between them and how these two women learn to help each other but it does make for quite a weighty plot and raises several complex issues.
However there is a lot of wisdom hidden in these pages which reflects Beard's sensitivity and ability to avoid sensationalism when portraying domestic violence, depression and anxiety in her characters. In this debut, Beard has shown us that she can definitely write good prose and that she is capable of writing a book which manages complex issues.
If you are interested in the mind of the victim as much as the killer, then this will be the book for you. If you like a novel when you get completely inside the head of the main character and cannot help but become involved in their pain and anguish, then you will enjoy this. It's not a long read and you will keep turning the pages, but perhaps not because of the reasons you originally thought.
"Dare to Remember" is Susanna Beard's debut novel and is out on the 1st February 2017 with Legend Press.
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