Book review: I Thought I Knew You by Penny Hancock

Monday, March 11, 2019 Permalink

Fans of Big Little Lies will adore this book. I actually didn’t really ‘love’ Big Little Lies but I still really liked this book. It’s got the whole mother vs mother thing going on, but this time it pits friend against friend, or rather long-term friendships vs motherhood. Kinda.

Book review: I Thought I Knew You by Penny HancockI Thought I Knew You
by Penny Hancock
Published by Mantle
on March 12th 2019
Source: PanMacmillan
Genres: General Fiction, Women's Fiction
ISBN: 1509867864, 9781509867868
Pages: 384

Jules and Holly have been best friends since university.

They tell each other everything – trading revelations and confessions, and sharing both the big moments and the small details of their lives: Holly is the only person who knows about Jules' affair; Jules was there for Holly when her husband died. And their two children – just four years apart – have grown up together.

So when Jules' daughter Saffie accuses Holly's son of a terrible crime, neither woman can possibly be prepared for what this means – for their families or their friendship.

Especially as Holly refuses to believe her son is guilty.

I was planning to just start this book and finish it the following day, but in a surprising move found myself sitting on the sofa reading the whole thing. (Yes, on the sofa, not in the bath as per usual!)

Hancock puts us in the heads of both Holly and Jules via alternating chapters. Interestingly Holly’s chapters are in first person (so written as ‘I’) whereas Jules’ are in third person (though from her point of view). When we first flicked to Jules this was a bit disconcerting and I had to go back and check we WERE in Jules head. Although noticeable (so interrupted my reading) it probably allows us to take sides or sympathise more with Holly than Jules.

I don’t have children but almost all of my friends do and I KNOW that it’s one thing for them to bitch and whinge about their kids but an entirely another thing if someone else does it. And that’s very much the case here. Jules and Holly are godmothers (odd-mothers they term it) to the other’s child. And both are strident supporters of their odd-child while worrying about their own kid’s behaviour. One reassures the other that their kid is basically good and going through a phase.

They’ve got challenges. Holly’s husband died (six years before the events of this book) when her son Saul was 10. She’s now remarried but Saul’s not entirely recovered from being uprooted and moving from London two years earlier. And Jules’s husband has anger issues and unrealistically high expectations of their daughter Saffie.

When Jules approaches Holly with allegations against Saul, she cannot believe it. She won’t believe it. Naturally accusations are made and words said that can’t be unsaid. I almost wrote that ‘things get blown out of proportion’ but that would be minimising the allegations against Saul and – as a reader, while it’s not something we want to believe – it’s something that can’t be taken lightly. Which of course is the problem for Holly, as a mother and spokesperson on the very issue of which her son is accused.

The wonderful thing about this book is the way Hancock takes us into the mothers’ minds. There’s adamance that their child cannot be lying but then there are questions; a sense of unease and I liked that the author didn’t shy away from examining those thoughts, those doubts that pop into people’s heads.

I had a conversation this past week with friends about parenting and kids who go ‘off the rails’: how much is due to parenting (perhaps not recently but over the years); or are there just ‘bad’ kids who would misbehave / have no conscience no matter how they are raised?

And of course the other really interesting element here is the fallout around the two women and their kids. The reaction of those around them and the repercussions of the allegations (ie. what comes after).

This was a bit of a sleeper for me in that I’d gotten pulled in before I knew it. I kinda guessed what was at play here, though got it badly wrong on one level, so the way the plot unfolds keeps readers guessing.

I couldn’t help but think this would make an interesting movie but a lot of the good stuff comes from the minds of the two women. They’re thoughts (about their kids) they’re too afraid to share with others. I don’t think diary entries would work, but perhaps they could be debriefing honestly re their thoughts with a shrink? Anyhoo… a great read and a brilliant bookclub book as it would spark a lot of discussion. (With Reading Group questions included in the back!)

I Thought I Knew You by Penny Hancock will be published in Australia by Pan Macmillan and available from 12 March 2019.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.


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