Book review: The Lost Girls by Jennifer Spence

Sunday, February 3, 2019 Permalink

I’d misunderstood the backcover blurb of this book by Jennifer Spence so thought it was going to predominantly be historical fiction, flashing back and forth in time to a point at which someone made a decision they later regretted or that could have gone two ways.

I’m not a fan of historical fiction. I had visions of war-time London or similar and was worried this book might be heavy-going.

And… Was. I. Wrong!!!! (That’s a statement, not a question by the way!)

Of course it helps that a time-slip of 20 years – which is the case in this novel – only takes us back from its present (the book kicks off in 2017) to 1997, which kinda feels like just yesterday. 

Book review: The Lost Girls by Jennifer SpenceThe Lost Girls
by Jennifer Spence
Published by Simon & Schuster AU
on February 1st 2019
Source: Simon & Schuster
Genres: General Fiction
ISBN: 9781925791372
Pages: 338

What would you do if you had the chance to change a pivotal moment from your past?

How far would you go to save someone you loved?

These are just two of the fateful choices a woman must face in this highly original and hauntingly evocative detective story of love and loss.

At the core of the enigmatic Stella’s story, past and present, is a mystery she is compelled to solve, a beautiful young woman who went missing fifty years ago – and a tragedy much closer to home she must try to prevent.

As Stella unravels the dark secrets of her family's past and her own, it becomes clear that everyone remembers the past differently and the small choices we make every day can change our future irrevocably.

So this book was not at all what I expected. I’m perhaps giving away part of the plot here, but essentially Stella finds herself back in time, giving her the chance to change devastating things she knows will happen in the near future.

I commented elsewhere on the ‘Sliding Doors’ scenario and this is very much the case here.

Everything about this novel is incredibly clever. I’ve been binge-watching Dr Who (2005-2018) and am now very familiar with the intricacies of time travel ( 😉 ) and the concern of paradoxes (cause and effect); and Stella breaks ALL of the rules here.

On one hand she knows that her words and actions could impact on the future and that she shouldn’t interfere, but on the other, there are events in her life she most certainly wants to change.

I know it’s very confusing but the old butterfly flaps its wings thing means change can be compounded quite dramatically – in ways that can surprise us. And of course the negatives can sometimes outweigh the positives and / or not be seen for years later. A change to one event in someone’s timeline completely shifts things and Spence deals with that very cleverly.

So… intervening doesn’t  always make things better and the way Spence writes about Stella’s journey (Stella x 2, I guess I mean) is quite confronting for we readers, as we can’t do anything about what’s happening. I can’t say too much, but the fact that we’re in Stella’s head and reading her journal entries mean we know what happened. What was supposed to happen. And what does happen. And what – as a result of that – happens.

So… now that I’ve given away the underlying plot, I should mention the highlight of this book (for me) was how Spence has Stella deal with changes to those pivotal moments and how they play out. The truth and the not-truth (lies seems to harsh a word) become murky and even Stella isn’t always sure what’s real and what isn’t. So though we think we know what’s going to happen, we don’t (in fact) know what direction the book (or the lives of those impacted) will take.

As in the other clever book I read recently (also about two possible scenarios following one event), Louis & Louise by Julie Cohen, there are lessons about destiny and fate and whether they’re predetermined or not. And – of course – whether it’s right to intervene if given the chance.

And of course of interest, is the fact that the time-travelling Stella gets to view her earlier life in retrospect (knowing what she knows now… kinda).

I should mention, as it’s a key part of the plot, that there’s another unresolved story in Stella’s family – the disappearance of her aunt 50 years earlier – and here they have a  chance to unravel that mystery. And that introduces the possibility that something like what happens to Stella (the time-travel isn’t explained – which I like… better not to question its feasibility) might have happened in the past to someone else, but somehow absorbed into their history and hovering on the edge of memories. (Which is a bit of a mindf*ck if you overthink it too much…. strangers offering advice ‘n’ all that!)

I very much enjoyed this inventive and mentally-challenging debut novel and hope it’s well-received and (that) we hear more from Spence.

The Lost Girls by Jennifer Spence was published in Australia by Simon & Schuster and is now available.

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


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