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A family in crisis (novel set in the Peak District and London)

31st May 2018

Whistle in the Dark by Emma Healey, the story of a family in crisis (novel set in the Peak District and London)

There are accolades aplenty for Elizabeth is Missing (winner of the Costa First Novel Award, 2014) and now the author turns her hand to a exploring a family in crisis, at the heart of which is a fractured mother/daughter relationship.

novel set in the Peak District and London15 year old Lana suffers depression, she has taken to cutting herself. Jen, her mother, has decided that the two should embark on a short art course in the Peak District. But part way through Lana goes missing and does not surface again for 4 days. What happened during those 96 hours is anyone’s guess and Lana’s lips are sealed. There are tantalising clues that may or may not add to the picture but Lana remains steadfastly unresponsive. Even police enquiries hit a brick wall.

The author’s depiction is an excellent portrayal of Lana keeping her own counsel and throwing her mother off the scent through offhandedness, withdrawal and insolence. Mum – Jen – counters by over functioning and increasingly feels like a jackhammer trying to elicit information about her daughter’s missing days. Jen stops being able to hear what her daughter is saying and is further driving a wedge between the two of them. As onlookers – us the readers – it is easy to become irritated by Jen’s increasingly desperate behaviour, to understand, but I think if one were to find oneself in her situation, the need to know could incite all kinds of curious, panicked and intrusive behaviour.

Hugh, the father and Jen’s husband is a bit part player who hovers ineffectually in the background and doesn’t offer boundaries for the growing crack in the relationship between mother and daughter. Sister Meg is focussing on her own situation and occasionally enters the fray as a rescuer.

The author is a gifted writer whose observations and easy writing go a long way to compensate for a slightly staccato plot. She is a master of observation, both of the human condition and environment. This is a casebook study of over-functioning (Jen) and withholding (Lana) and the author portrays the delicately balanced relationship with perceptive detail. It is lyrical at times, but it can also feel a little clinical and chaotic, and the subject matter certainly doesn’t make for an easy read (although the author does at times inject quite some humour). The chapters are notably short on the whole, and are varied in their tempo and psychological feel. If you are interested in human relationships, then I recommend this novel to you, it is at many levels a very compelling read.

Setting in terms of TripFiction isn’t intrinsic to the storyline.

Tina for the TripFiction Team

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