Susan Elliot Wright’s work sits very much in the ‘Like Maggie O’Farrell? You love this!’ genre. Serious women’s lit, I suppose. Chick lit for grown ups. I don’t know. Please not ‘Mum lit.’
Anyway, I can see where the comparisons are coming from – both writers feature female protagonists who deal with personal issues, often stemming from the past. And yet, I didn’t feel The Secrets we Left Behind was quite of O’Farrell’s calibre.
I can’t quite put my finger on it, only a mild feeling of dissatisfaction with the main character, frustration at the bland portrayal of her very understanding and nice husband, disappointment when I realised I’d guessed the plot quite early on (though as it wasn’t a crime novel I’m not sure this matters but still…) I wanted to like it.
The plot revolves around a middle aged woman, married to Duncan and with a daughter Hannah, who is the product of a past liaison. Hannah has just had a baby and is struggling with post natal depression when the protagonist is contacted by Hannah’s father, Scott. Scott is dying and wants Hannah to know the truth and for ‘Jo’ (the protagonist) to tell her family what happened. And so we move from the present to the hot summer of 1976, in Hastings, where Jo has just lost her mum and has left her home to find a new life. By chance, after a robbery in a woman’s hostel, she meets Eve, a hippy who lives in a squat with her boyfriend, Scott. The two stories intertwine and Jo has to decide what to tell those she loves best.
It’s a good holiday read. I can see it going down very well in holiday cottages, beaches and European city breaks this summer. The writing is simple, which I like, and I liked the Hastings setting, which was very well drawn. I feel the characterisation, however, was rather two-dimensional in places. The character of Eve was well drawn but stereotypical, and I struggled to like Jo. Having said that, I did ponder about how many books feature a 50-something woman as the main character? So far I’ve considered Mrs Dalloway (no idea of her age) and that’s about it.
So, all in all, a mixed bag.