|Title:||Then She Was Gone|
|Publisher:||Penguin Random House|
Ellie Mack was 15 years old when she walked out the front door of her home to meet her boyfriend and never came home. Lisa Jewell’s suspenseful novel is all about that day, and the many years in between and afterwards, and the people that were affected by her disappearance.
Laurel Mack is Ellie’s mother, and nothing has been the same since her daughter disappeared ten years previously. In that decade her marriage to Ellie’s father Paul has ended, and the relationship she has with her surviving children, Hanna and Jake, has slowly rotted away and become almost per-formative now. She spends afternoons cleaning Hanna’s apartment for money, and has avoided Jake and his girlfriend Blue for years. Four years after Ellie left, their family home is broken into and certain items belonging to their daughter are stolen, including a set of antique candle sticks, a cake and her sister Hanna’s passport. Despite the burglary no new information is discovered about Ellie and the police continue to cling to their original notion that the teenager simply ran away. As teenagers are prone to do.
The novel is written in three perspectives: that of Ellie, Laurel and the strange and rather infantile Noelle Donnelly whom Laurel hired to be a Math tutor for Ellie all those years ago. Flashback to before the disappearance and Ellie is in love with her boyfriend Theo and not doing as well in Math as she would like (though for the most part she is an accelerated student). After several arguments with her daughter over the expense of a tutor she ends up hiring Noelle who seems to be really helping, though is a tad strange as she becomes a little too interested in Ellie’s life and plies her with gifts. Months later Ellie begs Laurel to fire Noelle and she does. Noelle is devastated but not completely traumatized as she has plenty of other students to tutor despite the fact that her life is rather lonely and her social skills are a little warped. (Side-note: often whilst reading from Noelle’s perspective I am reminded of Stephen King’s Annie Wilkes in Misery.)
After ten years of waiting for Ellie to come home the teenager’s bones are found in an open field along with the backpack she had with her all those years ago. A month after Ellie’s funeral Laurel is sitting in a coffee shop and in walks a man named Floyd Dunn, whom Laurel cannot ignore. Very soon she is swept up in a romance with the single father of two daughters, Sara-Jade (S.J) and nine year old Poppy who reminds Laurel so much of Ellie. SJ and Poppy have different mothers and could not be more different: the elder is surly and self-assured whilst Poppy is an ‘old soul’ with an absolute affinity for her father.
As the novel reveals the tragedy that was Ellie Mack’s life, it also introduces us to a multitude of characters whose very state of being were directly affected by her disappearance. In ten years they have all been keeping secrets from one another, and much like ships in the night, very little is spoken about as they fail to crash into one another. Jewell’s characters reek of a certain kind of desperation that permeates every single page. It is easy to find desperation in Laurel cleaning a grown-up Hanna’s flat, and in Noelle’s dingy apartment, in Floyd’s determination to seduce Laurel and even in Poppy’s need to grow up. Each character has a certain darkness that cannot be ignored and I think that is partially one of the reasons why this novel is so compelling.
In the end the reader will be broken down by the consistent sadness that comes with a character who deserved more than the last few months of her young life, but will also be filled with a sense of atonement that comes with the strength only a family’s bond can sustain. This is my first Lisa Jewell and it will certainly not be my last.