Book review: Life Before by Carmel Reilly

Saturday, May 4, 2019 Permalink

This was one of those “I have no idea what I’m about to read” type books. I mean I’d read the backcover blurb and it sounded like something I’d enjoy but wasn’t quite sure what direction the book itself would take. Would it be creepy? Would there be some horrible family secret involving the main character’s desperately evil brother? Or, is there some other reason the pair are estranged: did the SHE perhaps do something; and is riddled with guilt as a result?

And I have to admit I don’t mind going into a book without knowing where I’ll be led.

Book review: Life Before by Carmel ReillyLife Before
by Carmel Reilly
Published by Allen & Unwin
on May 6th 2019
Source: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Thriller / Suspense
ISBN: 9781760529314
Pages: 352

Lori Spyker is taking her kids to school one unremarkable day when a policeman delivers the news that her brother, Scott Green, has been injured and hospitalised following a hit and run.

Lori hasn't seen Scott in decades. She appears to be his only contact. Should she take responsibility for him? Can she? And, if she does, how will she tell her own family about her hidden history, kept secret for so long?

Twenty years before, when she and Scott were teenagers, their lives and futures, and those of their family, had been torn to shreds. Now, as Lori tries to piece together her brother's present, she is forced to confront their shared past-and the terrible and devastating truth buried there that had driven them so far apart.

I really liked both of our lead characters and narrators, Lori and Pam (Lori and Scott’s mother).

In some ways we’re drawn more to Lori as she’s our host for events in the present and I guess that very fact gives us a sense of being more in control of what’s happening (or coming) when we’re with her.

It’s only when confronted with the past that she realises she’s somehow compartmentalised her entire life, shutting off parts of her past as she moves forward.

The book unfolds in several timeframes: now and 1993; although the plot in 1993 jumps about a little. The months are clearly labelled so not confusing and mostly quite clever because it lures us into an assumption that may (or may not) be wrong.

I didn’t entirely LOVE the way we found out about Lori’s family as a friend drops it into the conversation fairly bluntly. Perhaps Reilly could have eked that out for longer so the mystery remained. Of course knowing doesn’t mean we actually know. If you know what I mean, and you won’t unless you’ve read this book. It kinda means we know what’s coming and there’s a sense of dread as we wait for it to happen, and Reilly paces that ‘reveal’ well.

We’re in Lori’s head in the present and in some reflections of the past, but most of the narrative from 1993 is via Lori’s mother Pam. Reilly gives Pam a lot of texture (we get her backstory even though it probably it isn’t entirely necessary) and it means we really engage with her and understand how she’s feeling as a parent as her kids move from childhood into adulthood – worrying they’ve done everything they can to ensure they’re set up for life and have raised good people.

There are recurring inferences about 18 year old Scott and his best friend – the parents of each believing the other is the bad influence – and I think a lot of parents reading this book will certainly relate to this.

In the present the police are suspicious about Scott’s accident, believing he was targeted. Lori knows nothing of Scott’s life of the past 20+ years and the police can’t find any evidence he’s currently in any sort of trouble.

So it seems obvious to everyone the attempt on Scott’s life relates back to the events of 1993 and Lori’s forced to revisit the past and confront painful memories.

It eventually falls together but I’m not sure I was entirely convinced by how it plays out. (In terms of the ‘who’ and ‘why’.)

And of course eventually we get the full story of the past. Interestingly I was expecting an additional twist to that story but it doesn’t come. So perhaps that’s the twist…. we make certain assumptions and they’re not realised.

This is a good debut book by Reilly and I read it in a sitting. I liked that Reilly adds texture and backstory even to some of the lesser characters so it feels very real and we get drawn into the plot as it unfolds.

Life Before by Carmel Reilly will be published in Australia by Allen & Unwin and available from 6 May 2019.

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


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