**This review has spoilers**
Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell is a thriller about a fifteen-year-old girl Ellie Mack, who one fine day disappears without a trace, scarring and disorienting a family that never recovers from it. The story (for the most part) is told from the perspective of Ellie’s mother Laurel and her obsession to find her beloved daughter even after ten years.
That’s all you need to know get to started!
Oh, and also the fact that Ellie was Laurel’s favourite child and that she has two other children; her daughter Hanna with whom Laurel has a love hate relationship, and her son Jake (or Jack?). I forgot his name because he isn’t that important, just like his hippie girlfriend Blue who sees auras (blah!) in people isn’t important or needed. They both can be omitted from the plot and it wouldn’t make much of a difference.
Once the police investigations are over and Laurel has her closure (Yup she attends Ellie’s funeral. Sorry for the spoiler but there was a disclaimer, so … *shrugs*) she runs into a mysterious yet a charming (of course), handsome (of course), witty (of course) eloquent (of course), writer slash mathematician slash divorced parent of another girl who reminds Laurel of her own daughter.
That’s where the flesh and the bone of the story is and that’s how it is marketed. Although, what’s left out, for obvious reasons, is the mention of Noelle Donnelly. She’s an Irish, lonely, virgin. Those three things are not always mutually inclusive, trust me! So anyway, she is a virgin at the age of forty one. AT FORTY ONE! AT FORTY ONE! Let that sink in. She was also Ellie’s tutor, had a difficult upbringing (seven brothers, one sister who died, has hard time making friends, conservative family, all that. You get the picture?) She is definitely an interesting character in this book.
Then there are other vanilla characters like Paul (Laurel’s ex-husband), his wife, Floyd’s ex-wife and Noelle’s nephews and Ellie’s boyfriend Theo (who later becomes Hana’s boyfriend).
There are also two interesting characters, both are Floyd’s daughters from their ex-wives. The elder one is from his first wife. She is named Sarah Jade, but she calls herself SJ, because why not? She is also an anorexic, artsy, nudist, with an unconventional outlook towards life, because again, why not? But most importantly there is Poppy, she is Noelle and Floyd’s daughter, or so we are told as readers. What we are also told is that she has an uncanny resemblance with Ellie Mack but she is younger, if you keep a tab on the timeline of different events. If not, she would appear about the same age as Ellie and it will be more confusing and you would hate the novel, might re-read certain chapters, and until you finish it, you’d be confused AF.
Poppy is SO much like Ellie that everyone finds it weird yet no one questions it. Even though there are red flags all around her; she was homeschooled, doesn’t have a mother, she is a prodigy of sorts like Ellie. She even has the same candles that were missing form a set that Ellie had (Now that’s something fishy, right?)
See how it is all tied together?
The whole thing is so well twisted and engineered for a thriller that you want to believe your instincts but you keep second guessing until you finish the book and realise you were close. You were close, but you did not nail it, because there are things that don’t sit well with rationality, as is the case with a lot of novels. Artificial insemination with 100% success rate, fake pregnancy, incompetent police force. *Coughs*
Now, is this a well written book? Are there things that make it an enjoyable read? Of course, duh!
Even though it is marketed as a thriller, in certain pockets, it becomes an intense drama of sorts. It thematically explores the relationships across genders and generations. It’s a tale of sacrifices, obsession, jealousy and indifference, between mothers and daughters, wives and husbands and their exes, between sisters, between step sisters, between broken families and broken homes and ultimately how it all impacts and shapes the society that we live in.
So while the thriller aspect takes the front seat, it’s the exchange of emotions between different characters that are somehow intertwined into one single large family that drives the story. Surprise, surprise, that’s what I loved about the book!
The scene where Laurel tells her dying mother Ruby that she will be back next week to see her, but if she doesn’t, she should know that she had been a great mother, was as impactful as the scene where Laurel finally accepts Hanna. She doesn’t consider her a consolation prize anymore and that’s where her entire arc of being a selfish uncaring and biased parent to an accepting mother gets completed. That’s the most cheerful moment in this rather arduous heart-breaking tale.
There are also quite possibly subtle but intentional parallels between characters and where they are in the story. For instance, while Ellie evidently has a Stockholm Syndrome towards Noelle, you also can’t ignore how Noelle feels about Floyd and how she feels grateful for everything he does. That’s kind of Stockholm Syndromish, right? Maybe I am reaching, but …. but … there are definitely these deliberate nuggets of imagination that the writer has woven into the story and as a result there seems to be this invisible but common thread that runs through various characters and their circumstances. That’s powerful writing.
Now the book is broken down into multiple POVs. Or as I like to call it, my pet-POVs. Ha! I joke! I joke!
No seriously, I did not like it, but I get it. I GET IT!
And did I say, I did not like it?
Alright, I get it because this approach is easy to understand, is one of the easiest ways to communicate the story, without screwing up the timeline or bringing out the different perspectives. But why did it have to be 1st person narration for multiple characters? Why couldn’t the Author take an omniscient POV? The author knows everything, right? Right?
But again, I get it, it’s a thriller, that’s how it is done. That seems to be the popular choice. Fair enough!
Then again, as a reader, I feel like I read two different books with the same plotline. The first part was descriptive, nuanced, a lot of showing, all the good things about a great book. The second half, was full of body blows. Bam! Bam! Cut to the chase narration, a lot of telling. Telling about everything. Then telling of the telling! No guesswork. Just tying all the loose ends together haphazardly. By the way, Floyd’s leaving video message on the computer was just not good writing. Sorry if anyone thought that was a great idea. But once again, I know, and I understand, that it could very well have been an editor’s choice and the writer didn’t have much say in slicing and dicing it in so many ways to make it presentable.
All little criticisms aside, it’s a fast paced, thoroughly entertaining, rarely has a dull-moment, kind of a book.
So if you want to read a book about a girl stalking a girl (there aren’t a lot of novels on those lines, are there?), let alone a girl stalking a younger girl that she is not romantically attracted to, or if you are at the airport, or plan to be at the airport, and if airports are still a thing, you can definitely grab this book, because that’s what it is – an airport thriller, with it’s own set of flaws, but won’t let you nod off.
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