I cannot state enough how disappointed I was with this novel. Reading the blurb, I was so intrigued:
What does it take to keep something a secret your whole life?
Julia was the only person who knew what happened that day. But she didn’t tell the police.
And then it was too late. Now, years later, her secret looms large.
Is it really too late? And if she does tell, can she bear the consequences?
Sounds amazing right? Wrong. I got about one hundred and fifty pages in before I realised what this secret actually was, which, as a reader, was not a good start.
Julia is a child psychologist. Intermixed with scenes of her present, Forster incorporates scenes of Julia’s childhood, flitting between childhood and adulthood. I actually really like the way in which she did this. It was like two novels running together; one narrative was following Julia from the age of eight until her twenties, and the other narrative was focused on forty-eight-year-old Julia.
In the opening chapter, Julia recalls being asked to be a bridesmaid for her cousin, Iris. She tries on the bridesmaid dress, made specifically for her, and looks in the mirror, slightly swivelled so that “the lower half of her body invisible. It was a little like a kid looking in a fairground mirror. She felt she was distorted…” This idea of distortion continues throughout the novel, hinting at Julia’s state of mental health, specifically when she was a child. As the novel progresses, the reader comes to realise how troubled Julia really is. Iris has a baby not long after she is wed, and Julia is entrusted to push the pram around the garden to help the baby fall asleep. She finds herself thinking “of releasing the brake and giving it a push to see how far it could travel by itself along the cement path”. Is this some kind of psychopathic tendency? Women are usually very protective of babies, and, although she is only a child, Julia wants to harm it. At first, it does seem that Julia’s thoughts are only childish wondering, but as the plot develops, it becomes clear that this is not the case. It is bizarre that, as an adult, Julia is helping troubled children, and she can usually instantly tell what the problem is, however, she seems naive to her own past childish thoughts.
Julia is an extremely unlikeable character. Perhaps this is why I didn’t connect with the book at all. I found the plot very boring, and, at one point, almost put the book down, not wanting to continue reading it. While ‘the Express’, in their book review, said that: “You pity Julia the child and dislike Julia the adult but the final line of this compassionate novel might well make you weep.” Well, there was no weeping in my case, only Thank God I’ve finished this novel. And I would have to disagree with them pitying Julia the child; she is cruel, playing tricks on her cousins, getting them into trouble, getting people fired from work. I did not pity her, I hated her. And actually I didn’t dislike Julia the adult; she had a stable job, was helping other troubled children and tried to make amends with all the mistakes she made in her past.
One thing I cannot disagree with is the writing style Margaret Forster employs. The Express describes the way Forster “tunes into the dramatic currents in Julia’s life that flow beneath the dullish existence, catches the beats and tremors as Julia’s working life mirrors her childhood traumas”. She writes unobtrusively, slipping sentences in that are important, without making them obvious to the reader.
Overall rating: 2/5