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Novel set in British Columbia, Canada (chillingly thrilling)

24th May 2015

The Missing One by Lucy Atkins, novel set in British Columbia, Canada.

IMG_0867Do you remember how, as a child, you could lose yourself in a book? The real world would just fade away while you immersed yourself in the fictional world of the novel. It seems to be a sad fact about growing up that the ability to do this fades with time. Imagine my delight, then, to discover that for large parts of this novel I lost all sense of the world around me. I think I may have even missed a meal, and that’s saying something. This debut novel by Lucy Atkins is chillingly thrilling and also extremely well written, two qualities that only rarely coexist.

When Kali MacKenzie’s emotionally distant mother, Elena, dies, Kali finds herself in a pretty miserable place. She suspects her husband is cheating on her, her career has more or less ground to a halt and she fears, despite her greatest efforts, that she is failing to be an effective mother to her 17-month-old son, Finn. Elena has succumbed to a fast moving cancer and, true to her nature to the last, has told no one about it, hence depriving Kali of the opportunity to ask the questions that had troubled her throughout her life. Why was her mother always so cold towards her when Kali’s sister seemed to be favoured? Why was her father always so emotionally withdrawn? Why would Elena never talk about her past?

As she is searching for her mother’s birth certificate, Kali comes across 37 years-worth of postcards from someone named Susannah, each one with the same simple message “Thinking of you”, posted from Canada to their family home in Britain. On a whim, Kali decides to take her young son off to Susannah’s isolated home on a remote British Columbian island in search of answers to her questions. When she leaves a message for her father telling her where she’s gone, he, taciturn as usual, simply tells her that she should not go anywhere near Susannah but will not elaborate. Now, I’m not going to tell you anything more about the story, but, suffice to say, she should have listened to her father. Atkins shows her real skill in the creation of the character Susannah – subtle, believable and ultimately terrifying. Who is ever going to forget those eyes?

But this is not just a thrilling novel, it’s also a very clever one. While she is giving us this gripping story, Atkins is also exploring how the past influences the present and how important and influential mother-child relationships are. The novel is structured to allow Atkins to develop this theme; there are two voices – Kali’s first person, present tense narrative, becoming ever more agitated and uncertain as the novel proceeds and Elena’s third person, past tense narrative, which cleverly creates a sense of the distance and control that was Kali’s experience of her mother. As Kali uncovers her mother’s story, she gradually reaches an acceptance of her mother and, at the same time, comes to the understanding that motherhood is really a matter of “damage limitation”.

There is a strong environmental element to this novel also, as Elena tells us about her life’s work as a pioneering orca researcher in the 1970’s. Atkins cleverly ties this narration into the rest of the novel as Elena’s main interest is in the relationship between mother orcas and their children. I have to confess to skipping some of the detail in these sections, not because they were uninteresting but simply because I was too keen to get on with the main story.

Most of the book is set on various remote British Columbian islands in winter and Atkins recreates the feel of the place in chilling detail. It’s far from an attractive picture. It’s cold, miserable, dangerous and terrifying – a perfect setting for the story.

All in all, this one should go to the top of your book list.

You can follow Lucy on Twitter and via her website.

Ellen for the TripFiction Team

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  1. User: aditi3991

    Posted on: 25/05/2015 at 10:18 am

    Wow, sounds like a thrilling book 🙂


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