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3.6 out of 5 stars17
3.6 out of 5 stars
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 12 October 2012
I bought this book having read good reviews of Jones's latest, 'When Nights Were Cold'. That may be excellent for all I know - but I found this book, which looked from the initial blurb as though it might be an interesting mystery story, incredibly frustrating.

The novel centres around the concept, used in recent years by such writers as Ian McEwan, of the unreliable narrator. We are introduced in the first chapters of the book first to Maggie, a writer (whose thoughts, in italic type, crop up every now and then throughout the novel) and then to the main first-person narrator, Isabel. Isabel is a journalist and shop-owner, living in Istanbul with her Turkish husband and toddler daughter. She has come back to the Yorkshire village in which she grew up for the funeral of Owen, once her close school friend. Soon after arriving, Isabel is besieged by memories, not only of Owen but of Julia, her best friend, once Owen's girlfriend, who disappeared when she was 15 never to be seen again. Increasingly feeling that she will only be able to fully live her own life once she's found out what happened to Julia, Isabel begins to make investigations. And as she does so, the story becomes increasingly surreal, and the reader less and less certain of how much to believe Isabel. Who is she really? Why does Owen's mother think that she died years ago? Why do some of her memories change, or not seem to make sense? Who are the strange Bernadette and Leila that she keeps talking about? And why does she keep repeating that she only has one night to solve the mystery of Julia's disappearance, but at the same time talk about returning to the village that she has never liked? And what is the role of her writer aunt, Maggie in all this?

I found the plot of this book difficult to follow - I was unsure for most of the time what was truth and what was imagined, dreamt or distorted. Even the bits of the plot which seemed to be definite facts seemed unlikely. For example (as Kokoshka's Cat notes in her review) would Isabel's parents, who seem perfectly normal, really abandon her and vanish for good while she was in prison? If Isabel is bright (as her sections of the book imply) why did she drop out of school to work in a supermarket? Why do John, Annie and Isabel suddenly start digging up Owen's garden in the hope of finding Julia's skeleton? Surely that was pretty unlikely? And why's Annie so keen to find evidence that Owen was a killer? If one of the characters was a ghost, why did they have a perfectly believable life, receive text messages, talk on the phone and be treated as normal by everyone round them? By the end, I was totally confused as to what was going on and who people were. I started to wonder if it was like 'The Red King's Dream' in Alice Through the Looking Glass and everyone was Maggie's dream. But while the device in 'Alice' is funny, here it merely seemed phony, and an excuse to hold together a very thin plot. Maggie herself was a really irritating character - an interfering, smug busybody, and few of the other characters were particularly sympathetic or interesting.

The pity is that I think Jones can write, and could write well with a better plot. Even in this meandering tale there were some lovely descriptions of the Yorkshire countryside, and some good sections describing one of the girls working in a secondhand bookshop, and Isabel and Julia's childhoods. For this, I'll give the book three stars. But for me, it just didn't hang together as a story and I'd be wary about buying any other Jones books without a very good recommendation from someone I trusted!
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VINE VOICEon 19 February 2012
This is a lovely book to read. The writing has a dreamlike quality to it which transports you into another world.
Isobels old school friend has died and she has returned in the village for the funeral. While she is there she wants to find out more about the disappearance of another school friend who went missing twenty years earlier. Isobel relates lots of childhood memories which will be familiar to anyone who was a child in the 1970/80s.
As the book progresses we get deep into Isobels head and everything starts to feel more and more sinister. At times Isobel has to force herself to continue telling her story.
There is an uncomfortable feel to the book which is disorientating. This is made stronger by an unusual use of speech marks, they are often missed out having the effect of blurring the speech and narrative so you're often unsure who is saying what.
All of the relationships in the book are difficult, no one quite seems happy or relaxed with other people and this, again, adds to the odd atmosphere.
There has been lots of mention of the ending in other reviews. I found the last 10 or so pages of the book went too far and resulted in an overcomlicated book, shame because I had enjoyed the rest of it. I could think of several endings which would have been more satisfying.
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on 3 February 2013
As a fan of the author's previous novels I was looking forward to this chilling tale about the unexplained disappearance of a fifteen-year old girl called Julia.

The event has had a devastating impact on her two best friends, Owen and Isabel, and sixteen years later Isabel has returned from her new life in Turkey to the North of England for Owen's funeral, determined to find out what happened to Julia. Her theory is that she's dead and that Owen was responsible for her murder, but she has no proof.

When a stranger turns up at the funeral, claiming to have known Owen in prison, Isabel finds herself drawn to him and her search for answers intensifies.

It's an engrossing read, disturbing and quite mysterious at times. I was never sure exactly what was going on, past or present, and the truth wasn't what I was expecting. Clever, well-written and atmospheric, with an unusual plot, it kept me turning the pages right up until its slightly confusing end!
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on 14 September 2007
I love the quality of Jones's prose - as in her two previous works, it's spare, resonant and, at times, troublingly beautiful. An almost palpable sense of the Yorkshire landscape permeates the story: the otherworldly moors, the small town claustrophobia, not to mention the vast reservoir at the centre of the heroine's hometown, a body of water which spreads into a brooding centre for the plot itself. It's a fitting metaphor for this unconventional mystery novel - still waters running deep. I'm not a crime/mystery reader, and yet I found myself intrigued and moved by Isabel's struggle to lay old ghosts to rest.
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VINE VOICEon 30 September 2008
This is a beautifully written book that had me gripped from the start. On the surface of it, a disparate group of slightly odd people come together at a funeral to try to solve the mystery of what happened to a young girl who went missing years earlier. It all feels a litle strange, however, the writing is ephemereal, nothing feels quite real. This is because much more lies beneath and by the end of the story everything that went before must be viewed in a different light. It's one of those books that probably needs two reads to be fully appreciated. It left me feeling a little disturbed and haunted. Definitely worth a read (and a lot better than some of the Richard and Judy books this year!)
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on 7 July 2007
If you have read either of Susanna Jones's earlier novels, The Earthquake Bird and Water Lily, then you will have an idea of the sort of thing to expect with her latest offering. The writing is superb, deceptively simple and with real pace. I had been warned that I needed to concentrate to fully appreciate this book, so I made a conscious effort to read more slowly. If I hadn't I would probably have whizzed through the book in a single sitting, and may have ended up confused. Because - as the blurb says - nothing is as it seems.

I think if you read the book as a detective novel (which up to a point it is, with Isabel trying to discover the truth about what happened to her friend Julia) you should spot the clues to what's really going on. This is a very clever book by a fine writer.
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on 6 August 2008
I read this over a weekend and it was one of those books I longed to have more time to go back to. Having read the blurb I was warned that things are not what they seem (this was a mistake as I think it lessened the impact of the ending) so, like other readers here, I forced myself to slow down and concentrate. The prose flows beautifully, with the occasional phrase that jumps out at you making you realise what a powerful writer Susanna Jones is. If you like a book which lingers on in the memory for days after its finished, this is for you. I can't wait for my husband to read it so we can discuss it! Unsettling and shocking, this is highly recommended.
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on 24 May 2015
I read The Earthquake Bird by Susanna Jones and absolutely loved it. But The Missing Person’s Guide to Love is different. It has fabulous characterisation and atmosphere but is ultimately unsatisfying as you are never sure who is who or what really happened or to whom.
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on 19 December 2007
What a fantastic book! Would make a brilliant book-group read or present - it is literally impossible to put down (stayed up til 4am finishing it). As with Jones' other books, the story is incredibly gripping. Its so beautifully written I felt I should slow down and appreciate the quality of the writing - but the story is so good I had trouble stopping myself from whizzing through it! Would love to see one of her books adapted for TV or film - they're incredibly visual and atmospheric. I can't stop thinking about some of the scenes in this book - its a book that really stays with you...
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on 19 August 2007
This is a brilliant book by a talented writer. The plot and the characters are compelling and she writes really well. The Missing Person's Guide to Love kept me guessing right to the end and is the kind of book that you keep thinking about long after you've read it. Having read both of Jones's other books, this is a bit of a change in style, but I actually think it's her best book so far. A definite must read.
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