I assumed Lenny Marks Gets Away With Murder by Kerryn Mayne was going to be cosy crime fiction. Given the title. But it isn’t. It’s actually an at-times funny but also bittersweet story about loss, grief and abandonment as well as friendship, joy and acceptance. The book’s namesake, Lenny (Helena), is an absolute delight in the same way Eleanor Oliphant, Grace Atherton and Susan Green all were.
I was smitten from the very first line, sharing the opening chapter on social media because I was deep in like. And an oversharer.
And I know one person for sure, who pre-ordered the book based on this. And that was even before I’ve graced it with a very very rare five stars!Lenny Marks Gets Away With Murder
by Kerryn Mayne
Published by Bantam Australia, Penguin Books Australia
Source: Penguin Random House Australia
Genres: General Fiction, Literary Fiction
Lenny Marks is good at not remembering.
She has spent the last twenty years not thinking about the day her mother left her when she was still a child. Her stepfather’s parting words, however, remain annoyingly unforgettable: 'You did this.'
Now thirty-seven, Lenny prefers contentment and order over the unreliability of happiness and the messiness of relationships. She fills her days teaching at the local primary school, and her nights playing Scrabble with her pretend housemate, watching reruns of Friends and rearranging her thirty-six copies of The Hobbit.
Recently though, if only to appease her beloved foster-mum, Lenny has set herself the goal of ‘getting a life’.
Then, out of the blue, a letter arrives from the Adult Parole Board. And when her desperate attempts to ignore it fail, Lenny starts to unravel.
Worse, she starts to remember . . .
Mayne takes us back and forth in time. Most of the book unfolds in the present through Lenny and the way her life is upended by news of her stepfather’s release from prison, but we’re also taken back in time to Lenny’s tumultuous childhood. She was abandoned by her mother and her stepfather, initially going to her grandmother’s before entering fostercare where she was fortunate to find foster parents who treated her like their own. Her foster mother is still her confidante and mother figure in the present.
Lenny tries to tell herself she’s perfectly happy with her life – structured around her job as a teacher, voluntarily mowing her neighbour’s yard despite never having met the old woman living there, and having a crush on her local independent grocery store owner who’s introduced her to his penchant for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But she realises she’s lonely and struggles without the routine of school, relying on an array of coping mechanisms that include the TV show Friends, and calming herself with mental word games.
I wonder if things in Lenny’s life would have changed even if it wasn’t for the letter from the parole board or if she was at the precipice of change nonetheless. (An interesting bookclub discussion perhaps?)
In attempting to make friends she puts in more of an effort to be social at work – though it doesn’t quite go as she hopes. Yet it’s a series of mishaps, such as a drunken trivia night involving the theft of a dog, that change Lenny’s life. A domino effect in a sense.
But it’s through these changes that she revisits her past. Realising there are parts she’s blocked out, and I think readers can (kinda) see what’s coming before Lenny. Mayne does an excellent job of unravelling Lenny’s history – for us and for Lenny. It’s desperately sad and tragic, even if you know things will ultimately work out better for the 37 year old. And then Mayne throws in another twist. Anticipated but not expected… and Lenny’s world is upended again.
Lenny herself is the star of this book, though it’s Mayne’s words, thoughts and dialogue that ensure Lenny is witty and likeable and readers keen to travel on the ‘journey’ (sorry!) with her.
Lenny’s thought processes are often hilarious. She’s very self-unaware, in keeping to herself she’s lacking social skills. And of course it’s obvious she’s been traumatised in some way.
No one would notice Lenny Mark’s absence in their life. She likened herself to the word on the tip of your tongue that you can’t quite recall. It’s there, only it won’t come to mind and it is of no consequence if it doesn’t. She was the reason you walked back into a room, thinking you’d forgotten something, only you didn’t remember what it was because it had never been that important. Lenny was a shadow. p 175
Though desperately sad at times Lenny’s story also gives readers that warm sense that all is right in the world and the underdogs and ‘underestimateds’ will have their day after all.
This book is about loss and grief. It’s about friendship and trust. It’s about having faith in yourself with a reminder how easily our views are tainted by others and shaped by events around us. I LOVED this book and am sure that those like me who adored Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine will feel the same about Lenny Marks.
Lenny Marks Gets Away With Murder by Kerryn Mayne was published in Australia by Penguin Books and is now available.
I received a copy of this book for review purposes.