I enjoyed CJ Tudor’s debut novel, The Chalk Man last year. Interestingly Tudor offers a similar lead character this time around. Another teacher with less-than-healthy habits. And one haunted by his past.
The Taking of Annie Thorne
by C.J. Tudor
Published by Michael Joseph
on March 5th 2019
Source: Penguin Random House Australia
Genres: Psychological Thriller
ISBN: 0718187466, 9780718187460, 9780718187453
One night, Annie went missing. Disappeared from her own bed. There were searches, appeals. Everyone thought the worst. And then, miraculously, after forty-eight hours, she came back. But she couldn't, or wouldn't, say what had happened to her.
Something happened to my sister. I can't explain what. I just know that when she came back, she wasn't the same. She wasn't my Annie.
I didn't want to admit, even to myself, that sometimes I was scared to death of my own little sister.
This book also unfolds across the two timeframes. 1992 and now(ish). Joseph has returned to his hometown after receiving an email.
“I know what happened to your sister. It’s happening again…”
On one hand he wants answers. Closure perhaps given the events decades earlier. On the other, he’s made a mess of his life, can’t find a teaching job and has a gambling debt that’s overdue; so really has no better options.
We eventually learn he hopes to call on a former frenemy from his school days for the money he owes. With much bravado he scores himself a teaching job, replacing a woman who just killed herself and her son… but not before writing on the wall, ‘Not my son.’
And we learn her son, disappeared – only for a day – not long before the murder / suicide, but that he’d changed on his return. Just like Annie years before.
Of course Joseph’s return to his hometown doesn’t go as planned and I pondered on his thinking here…
There’s a line people spout, usually people who want to sound sage and wise, about wherever you travel, you can never escape yourself.
That’s bullshit. Get far enough away from the relationships that bind you, the people that define you, the familiar landscapes and routines that tether you to an identity, and you can easily escape yourself, for a while at least. Self is only a construct. You can dismantle it, reconstruct it, pimp up a new you.
As long as you never go back. Then, that new you falls away like the emperor’s new clothes, leaving you naked and exposed, all your ugly flaws and mistakes revealed for the world to see. pp 77-78
I wonder though if Joseph’s right, did he really escape himself and the events of his childhood by leaving town, or has he buried them beneath booze and gambling? Behaving as dysfunctionally as he possibly can, in many ways.
He’s a likeable lead. Too smart for his own good in many ways and prone to sarcasm and smart arse remarks (which I admire in a person). There’s something about him though… more than a sense of self-destructiveness, like he’s just quit by default.
I looked back over my review of The Chalk Man before writing this as I had a vague memory of it dipping into otherworldly territory. Fantasy / science fiction isn’t a genre I’m comfortable with when reading*. Even though I love Lisa Unger’s books for example, I struggled with a few that drew on the inexplicable.
Tudor does that here. Takes us somewhere I don’t usually enjoy, but… the way the events of 1992 (and now) unfold are well paced and plotted intricately enough that – though there’s ultimately no ‘real’ mystery – we don’t really know what’s going to happen, where Tudor will take us… so I kept powering through this read.
I commented in my review of The Chalk Man about the quality of Tudor’s prose. I think what I also appreciate is that she casually drops in existentially-challenging ideas or thoughts. Here Joseph is a cerebral kinda guy, prone to pondering – which is probably why I liked him. I noted phrases here and there that leapt out at me.
Once you become accustomed, you become complacent and then you become either complicit or consumed. p 220
The Taking of Annie Thorne by CJ Tudor was published in Australia by Penguin Random House and is now available.
* I do watch it however.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.