I’m not a big fan of the need to ‘define’ a book’s genre. Indeed, if you asked me about What She Never Told Me by Kate McQuaile, I’d struggle to classify it at all. I’d easily be able to offer up a short synopsis; but it’s intriguing without being a suspense or thriller; and I’d be loath to mention the sprawling and complicated family featured in case you mistook it for something by Maeve Binchy or similar.
It’s none of those things. But it is good.
What She Never Told Me
by Kate McQuaile
Published by Quercus
on March 3rd 2016
Source: Hachette Australia
Genres: Literary Fiction
ISBN: 1784296716, 9781784296711
Louise Redmond left Ireland for London before she was twenty. Now, more than two decades later, her heart already breaking from a failing marriage, she is summoned home. Her mother is on her deathbed, and it is Louise's last chance to learn the whereabouts of a father she never knew.
Stubborn to the end, Marjorie refuses to fill in the pieces of her daughter's fragmented past. Then Louise unexpectedly finds a lead. A man called David Prescott . . . but is he really the father she's been trying to find? And who is the mysterious little girl who appears so often in her dreams? As each new piece of the puzzle leads to another question, Louise begins to suspect that the memories she most treasures could be a delicate web of lies.
This book came as a bit of a surprise. It’d been a few nights since I’d done any reading and as this was chronologically next on my list I picked it out to occupy my Saturday evening. My hopes weren’t high.
I’d been feeling unsettled all day and spent much of it wallowing rather getting to stuff awaiting my attention. So this book was an unexpected pleasure. It’s not a particularly upbeat novel but it heartened me (in a nourishing kind of way) and helped improve my fairly-ordinary week.
I found myself enchanted by Louise and her story. Like I said… it was easy to become intrigued. I had my theories…. but, was I right?
Louise has long been ‘obsessed’ with the idea of finding her father but never pursued it with Marjorie assuming the opportunity will eventually arrive. But with no death-bed declaration from her mother, Louise is on her own.
Complicating Louise’s quest is that she’s again haunted by a recurring dream from her childhood which brings with it a fear she doesn’t understand.
‘I talked to my mother the night she died, losing myself in memories of when we were happiest together. But I held one memory back, and it surfaces now, unbidden. I see a green postbox and a small hand stretching up to its oblong mouth. I am never sure whether that small hand is mine. But if not mine, whose?’
I’ve read a few books centred around daughters trying to come to terms with their mother’s deaths and unpicking secrets their mothers have left behind. One of my favourites from 2014 (The Missing One by Lucy Atkins) was one such book, along with Margaret Forster’s. The Memory Box (which I reference in the linked post).
McQuaile examines the mother-daughter bond in this novel and Louise shares her concerns that her formative years were too entangled with Marjorie. Things changed after Marjorie married but Louise sometimes felt trapped by her mother’s claustrophobic mollycoddling.
Her mother’s death couldn’t have come at a worse time… as when we first meet Louise she’s separated from her husband but doesn’t understand why he left. She still loves him and is later thrilled when he says he’s ready to return to their marriage.
So… in addition to the mother-daughter thing, this novel also touches on relationships and – as someone who’s not married or in a long-term relationship – I was intrigued by McQuaile’s consideration of love, marriage, fidelity and adultery (via her characters)… and very specifically the fact that love, marriage and infidelity aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.
It’d be easy to write her ponderings off as cynical but I wonder what others think. Realistic or pragmatic perhaps?
And finally – and most importantly – this novel is about identity. Something that’s more than a name. More than our family and more than our heritage. It’s about really ‘knowing’ who we are. If that makes sense?!
So, this book came as a surprise. And a delightful and beguiling way to pass a Saturday evening.
What She Never Told Me by Kate McQuaile was published in Australia by Hachette on 8 March 2016.
I received a copy of this book for review purposes.