On My Life by Angela Clarke
ON MY LIFE
Do you ever do that thing when you wonder what you would do if you found yourself in the same situation as the main character in the book you're reading?
What would you do if you suddenly found yourself arrested for something you know you didn't do? Then before you know it you're in prison facing trial...What would you do? How would you cope?
Well what I would do is...hang on, did you realise you'd have no phone, no internet, no calls to relatives - or when you do they won't accept them - then there's no privacy, and no one believes anything you say...oh yes and you're pregnant ...hmmmm, that does make it more complicated and hundred times more frightening.
This is exactly the situation Jenna finds herself facing in Angela Clarke's brilliant new thriller, 'On My Life'. You won't find yourself wondering what you might do if you were Jenna because oh my word, Clarke absolutely makes sure we feel as if we are firmly in Jenna's shoes while she tries to find a way to prove to the police what really happened - if she can work it out for herself first that is. I loved Jenna's narrative voice - pacy, breathless, flighty, flitting from thought to thought, distracted, anxious and completely convincing in creating the atmosphere of fear, shock and horror as she finds herself in prison and totally alone in the world. It is impossible to read this book without feeling your heart in your mouth, your chest pounding, butterflies in your stomach and a cold sweat breaking out across your forehead. In Jenna, Clarke has created an authentic, realistic and genuine character who pulls the reader along through the pages, making them part of her every thought, feeling, realisation and emotion.
Let me back up a bit - how does Jenna find herself in prison? She has the perfect life - a gorgeous boyfriend to whom she is engaged, a job she loves and a beautiful home. Then she finds her stepdaughter murdered and her partner missing. Jenna is the main suspect and is locked up in prison awaiting trial for a crime for which her fellow prisoners would cause her great harm if they ever found out. And she's pregnant. Yep, Clarke knows how to create a captivating blurb and hook you from the first line. This is a tightly plotted, well executed novel and Clarke knows exactly how to deliver a story full of tension, suspense, emotion and twists.
It goes without saying this is a thriller with a ticking clock - a clock that ticks loudly on every page; a ticking that increases your heart rate to match Jenna's as she tries desperately to work out who killed her stepdaughter and clear her name - a task made ever more complicated and frustrating by the prison system and the restriction on what information and support she can access. The relentless pace never lets up. Clarke really won't let us forget how brutal the prison system can be and how terrifying it would be to find yourself in a situation that is not only totally alien to you, but also one where you are without the necessary support to navigate and survive the system.
I have always been a fan of Angela Clarke's novels but I think she has excelled herself with this totally gripping and truly unputdownable thriller. Her sentence structure and sense of pace captures the anxiety, stress and fear of Jenna and the pain of all the women in prison - guilty or not guilty. At times this novel is utterly heartbreaking and shocking. It's clearly a novel Clarke wrote with passion and from her own heart. I felt my eyes had been opened to the reality of prison for women and what it means to be within this system. Clarke raises challenging questions about prison and the justice system making this not only a compelling read but one that is thought provoking too.
I am incredibly impressed with Clarke's ability to not only put me inside the head of a character so effectively that I totally felt as if I was in the prison cell with her, but also to write a story with a plot in which I was utterly consumed. As I have said, it has a pageturning plot, a thrilling crime to solve, explores themes of injustice, motherhood, parenting, love and revenge as well as raising challenging and uncomfortable questions for the reader. It really is a one sitting read and I can not wait for more from Clarke.