on 28 January 2014
This had my attention from the first few pages, and I read it to the end in one sitting - very late night! We are involved with Maggie's rehabilitation from a nervous breakdown in the '60s, gradually learning her story as she regains snippets of information about herself. Running alongside Maggie's story is that of Jonathan and Fiona who are expecting their first child, but whose life seems to be imploding. Just as things look as though they can't get any worse for them, a police man turns up to ask Jonathan about his father. The author skilfully controls the development of her characters and the release of information so that the reader is working things out at about the same time as the characters, The descriptive writing is excellent, particularly when dealing with the boarding house and rooms that Maggie and the theatrical troupe use; the 60s attitude towards sex, abortion and unwed mothers is also well captured. If you want a lazy holiday read then this might not be it, but if you want something to keep your attention and make you think, then I recommend this very highly.
This is an absolutely superb read. It is a story told in two halves with each chapter alternating between the two strands of the story, which then eventually dovetail together.
The first story is that of Maggie, who we first meet as a mental health patient in 1964. Maggie has no recollection of her life before entering the hospital and her story is divulged as she slowly starts to remember when we find out that she has had to make some very brave decisions which will affect her and others for a long time to come. It is not a pretty read, the events that brought her to this point in life and her treatment in hospital are very moving and quite harrowing at times.
The second story is that of Jonathan and takes place 40 years on. We meet him at a time when everything is going wrong in his life including, but not exclusively, problems at work and his father's death and the strain everything is putting on his marriage have really brought him to a low point. The only thing he has to look forward to is the birth of his first child. There are times in the book where you feel that he isn't getting the support he needs from his wife Fiona, but as a pregnant woman she has her own set of priorities. As the book says, when a woman is pregnant, she is the most important person in the world so when, on top of everything else, an unexpected visitor arrives with some quite shocking news that will have far reaching implications for Jonathan, he really feels he is on his own.
As I read the book, moving towards the point where the two stories meet up, I could appreciate how well the author had plotted this suspense filled story, which is very unusual, poignant and thought provoking. Like a jigsaw puzzle, each part of the storyline very neatly fits together until eventually you see the whole picture, with no spares.
There are some very serious issues in the book, which are dealt with in a very matter of fact way, not too melodramatic, but just right. It wasn't a book that I could sit and read in one go, partly because I didn't want it to end, but I kept having to put it down to catch my breath and take it all in.
It really is a special read, about parenthood, love, loss and mental health; one that I found very emotional and when it reached its very satisfying ending, I had to wipe a little tear away from my eye.
This is a dual time frame novel set in the 1960s and in 2008/9. Maggie is in a mental institution but has no memory of what has happened to her or why she is there. We get insights into her story alongside the story of Jonathan, a teacher in 2008 whose wife is pregnant. He has a difficult relationship with his parents and has never known why.
As the story unfolds we start to learn of the links between Maggie and Jonathan in alternating chapters. This is an easy book to read, and one which I found myself getting through quite quickly. There are comparisons with Maggie O'Farrell and I would agree that the style is similar. Maggie's story reminded me of O'Farrell's The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox.
I really enjoyed this book. Parts were set in Sheffield where I'm from, so I liked that although it was not recognisable as the city apart from some very broad accents. The parts in the mental institution were sad to read, as people were not treated well in those establishments in the past. I'm not giving anything away by saying that Maggie finds herself pregnant and unmarried and I do think that people would have treated her less sympathetically in those days than is portrayed in the book, but that's my only real criticism.
A good tale and I liked the way it unfolded.
on 30 June 2013
I bought this book as an inexpensive holiday read, but was soon deeply imbedded in the lives of the characters. Fascinating how the two stories start to merge and I was an emotional mess, but in good way, for the last third of the book. It's been a long time since a book has moved me to tears. Excellent read.
The Things We Never Said is a story told in two voices and during the prologue the reader finds themselves in 2009 on a cold, wet and windy day. This is a gentle introduction, with flash backs to the past that really sets the pace for the story that follows.
The first voice of the story is Jonathan; a teacher, a father-to-be. Jonathan is a complex and worried character, his memories of childhood are not happy, he is struggling to know how to tell his ageing and controlling father that he is to be a grandfather. Jonathan's world changes beyond recognition, it happens so fast, with work problems and family issues, a visit from a policeman who is investigating crime that were committed over forty years ago is a huge shock, and one that will change his past, and his future.
The story goes back to 1964; Maggie is a confused and scared woman, she's locked up in a psychatric hospital, taking tablets, undergoing electric shock treatment. Maggie cannot remember why she is there, what happened to her? One small incident sparks off the beginning of Maggie's recollections, and as she gradually remembers her past, the reader accompanies her on her painful and traumatic journey.
At first, it is difficult to see how Maggie and Jonathan's lives can be connected, but as Susan Elliot Wright gently and carefully relays their individual stories, the links between them are uncovered.
The Things We Never Said is elegantly intriguing, the writing is passionate and authentic, the characters have flaws, yet are so very human. The sharp contrasts between the 1960s and the present day are clear, and fit together quite perfectly.
Susan Elliot Wright has explored many themes within this novel; the shock and shame of illegitimacy during the 60s; the pressures and political correctness of the modern-day teaching profession. The story centres on loss and deceit and the title is so very apt, for many people, certainly the lead characters in this story, it is the things that are not said that can have such a long-lasting and damaging effect on lives, and on futures.
There is a quote from author Veronica Henry on the cover of The Things We Never Said, she says "if you love Maggie O'Farrell, you will love this". I'm usually not so keen on comparisons and Maggie O'Farrell is a fabulous author, I was worried that comparing this debut novel with such an accomplished and successful author was a big big ask. However, I am delighted to say that I agree with Veronica Henry. Susan Elliot Wright has produced a superb story, she writes beautifully. I loved every page.
on 30 June 2013
Very well written, emotional story. Couldn't put it down! Bought tears to my eyes more than once, and I actually cried at the end, not many books have done that to me! recommended.
on 28 June 2016
This book has got to be one of the best books that I have read so far this year, in my opinion. The book is based around the lives of 2 strangers Jonathan and Maggie. their stories are separated by decades and we initially do not know that their lives are connected in any way. Maggie finds herself in an Asylum without any knowledge of how she got there, as her health improves she begins to remember what happened to her. In the meantime we meet Jonathan who is married and expecting his first child with the sudden death of his father he begins to doubt his fitness for parenthood I found this book both compelling and haunting ,I found myself thinking about the book and I shall be looking for more books by this author. .
on 24 May 2013
This is a novel about mental health, memory and how the fabric of families can potentially unravel - all rich subjects for fiction - and Susan Elliot Wright delivers them splendidly.
The Things We Never Said begins with Maggie waking up in a mental hospital in the 1960s unable to remember who she is or how on earth she got there. She gradually acquaints herself with her fellow patients and the staff `caring' for them, having to learn (or is it relearn?) the rules and etiquette as she tries to recover her past. It's a great premise to launch the story from, and the bygone era of chilly mental institutions and electroshock treatment (that seems to be used as punishment rather than therapy) are absorbing and scarily plausible.
Meanwhile in the present day, we meet Jonathan, a teacher with a pregnant wife and aging parents. His first challenge in the book is to find a way to tell them they're going to be grandparents. There's no obvious reason why they'd be unhappy about it, it's simply a case of Jonathan choosing his moment . . . And yet this becomes but one of several things various characters leave unsaid, or have difficulty finding the right words for, and naturally their lack of communication has consequences.
The Germans have a term, Weltschmerz, for the sadness felt when one realises the world cannot match the ideal of one's mind. This is what Jonathan is going through. He is in crisis because he cannot accept his father for the barbed and distant man he is; and, when he learns an uncomfortable truth, is drawn into a spiral of anxiety and unseemly behaviour that threatens his job and relationship.
While Maggie's far more dramatic break down is exacerbated by the prejudice and ignorance of post-war Britain, Jonathan's issues have a distinctly modern flavour: binge drinking, pent up rage, the ups-and-downs of marriage and imminent fatherhood, not to mention the stress of being embroiled in a workplace investigation. The comparisons and contrasts drawn out between the two eras are subtle, and cleverly done.
Some of the most touching portions of the novel, past and present, take place when it snows, a detail not even hinted at by the cover design. Perhaps it's because I read this on trains in December on my way to and from family visits, but there's something very appropriate about the author's choice here: the quietness of snow; the numbing cold; the way it disguises familiar landscapes; the connotations of Christmas, sentimentality, journeys and reconciliation. It's probably not the easiest angle to promote a debut novel from, but this is an excellent winter read.
The themes in The Things We Never Said are treated knowledgeably, but gently, and I was swept along by Elliot Wright's assured storytelling. An ideal choice for readers of genealogy mysteries.
on 16 October 2015
This is probably something that would be pigeon-holed by most as “women’s fiction.” I have discussed in the review of Zuzu’s Petals exactly what that might mean. The Things We Never Said could almost be described as having universal appeal — after all much of the story is told from a male perspective: that of Jonathan. However, for me, and this is perhaps something personal, there is something about it which said that I was not really supposed to be reading this book: a bit like I felt as a bloke when attending parent and toddler groups.
There is no doubting it was written from a female perspective. Not that that is necessarily a bad thing: goodness knows, enough books are just too blokey to have a universal appeal. It is things like the two couples going back to one of their houses and the men knocking up a pretty reasonable Spanish omelette which they had with ciabatta and red wine while they debriefed — the two women were presumably bonding in some other way while the men were being fabulous in the kitchen. Later they are at the pub and go outside for a smoke:
‘Speaking of which did you see the game on Tuesday?’
They spend the inevitable ten minutes talking about football before Malcolm says, ‘Anyway you sounded fed up on the phone.’
For me, that does not seem like a narrative from a male perspective: “blah, blah — football, football — now let’s get to the really important subject of your emotions.”
There are further recipe suggestions later on:
He’d poached the chicken breasts in white wine and stock so they stayed moist and tender, and served them with a creamy peppercorn and brandy sauce, new potatoes and green beans.
If I want recipes I’ll read a recipe book. In a novel, unless it is to say something about character, or contributes to the plot (someone chokes on the peppercorns?) — it just seems a bit pretentious.
It is not that I see anything wrong with subverting traditional gender roles, it just didn’t have an authentic feel to me.
In many ways Jonathan is well drawn, but he doesn’t on the whole feel solid enough. He doesn’t react as I expect him to. I’ll not put in a spoiler, but he does seem to overreact to some news he receives at one point of the book and emotes rather too much over such a thing to be like any bloke I’ve ever met.
Having said all that, I did enjoy the story. The two narratives that run in parallel drive the story forward in a compelling way and come together nicely at the end. It is a novel about the importance of family and belonging that any reader will enjoy. You do find yourself constantly thinking: ‘I know I said I’d stop there, but I’ll just read on a bit more.’
A large part is set in Sheffield and the sense of place is largely successful. The use of ‘thi’ and ‘tha’ is rather mashed up though, and mixed up with ‘you’:
‘…so’t lass says, so tha’s to stop at home unless you hear owt different’ or: ‘Aye, gave tha head a right crack, lass. How’s tha feeling now?’ Or: ‘There’s rompers and night dresses and leggings and the like. Mostly blue, I’m afraid, but they might save thi a bob or two just until thi gets on tha feet.’
(You wouldn’t say ‘until him gets on he feet.’) Tha (thou) is the subject pronoun like ‘he’ or ‘I.’ The object pronoun and the possessive form ‘thi’ are practically the same (Sheffield dialect for ‘thee’ and ‘thy.’)
Admitted, these things are not easy to get right, especially if you’re not used to hearing them or speaking them — and a writer also has the dilemma of conveying dialect in a readable way to contend with
32 Sheffield novels and counting reviewed at: http://stevek1889.blogspot.co.uk/2014...
on 24 May 2016
until over half way through the book. there are two separate story lines which I foud somewhat irritating especially since the story of Maggie was a lot more compelling and much better written than that of Jonathan who was a bit if a cardboard cut out figure of a dim bloke who got almost every relationship he had with anyone woefully wrong.
on the other hand, the character of Maggie was skilfully drawn and the mental hospital scenes were fairly powerful.
this made for a very uneven book , also think that the tying of the two sories together was a bit rushed and although jonathan did eventually attain a slight degree of self awareness, you still feared for the well being of his wife and new baby as he continued to bludder on
overall think the author is much better at conveying the female characters but none of the men are altogether believable