Book review: Who Did You Tell? by Lesley Kara

Wednesday, January 1, 2020 Permalink

Astrid’s mother named her Hilary because (when she was born) she had such a sunny disposition. Hilary became Astrid as soon as she was able believing it to be the antithesis of her birth name and almost two decades later, it’s set the scene for the rebellious and unsettled life she’s led since.

Book review: Who Did You Tell? by Lesley KaraWho Did You Tell?
by Lesley Kara
Published by Bantam Press
on 09/01/2020
Source: Penguin Random House Australia
Genres: General Fiction, Psychological Thriller
ISBN: 1787630056
Pages: 304

It’s been 192 days, seven hours and fifteen minutes since her last drink. Now Astrid is trying to turn her life around.

Having reluctantly moved back in with her mother, in a quiet seaside town away from the temptations and painful memories of her life before, Astrid is focusing on her recovery. She's going to meetings. Confessing her misdeeds. Making amends to those she's wronged.

But someone knows exactly what Astrid is running from. And they won't stop until she learns that some mistakes can't be corrected.

When we meet Astrid she’s just moved back in with her mother and their relationship is strained. It’s obvious Astrid alienated almost everyone in her life when she started drinking heavily.

The story of her most recent hospitalisation and ‘how’ she came to get there unfolds slowly as Astrid works through her recovery.

We learn of her fairly-recent past and the mess she’s made of her life as she attempts to free herself from her demons and start afresh.

Astrid comments that she and her mother have never been close though her drinking and behaviour alienated the pair for some time. To Astrid her mother’s disappointment is palpable and it’s this examination of relationships; of love and trust – and trust broken – that I enjoyed most in this book.

She gives me a funny look. She’s worrying about me; of course she is. I sit down beside her and she closes her notebook, but not before I’ve seen the words: ‘Try not to react to everything she says.’

For the first time, I realize something profound. That mixed in with all her anger and hurt at my behaviour is frustration at her own behaviour, her failure to be a different parent, one who might somehow have prevented my lapse into darkness or, at the very least, dealt with it in a more effective way. p 212

There’s something really powerful about this story. For me it wasn’t as much about the mystery… who is threatening to reveal Astrid’s secrets, or why. (Or what they are!) For me there’s a sense of foreboding rather than menace or edge-of-your-seat suspense.

This is more about redemption and forgiveness. It’s about being honest about who we are and accepting that changing our lives isn’t easy but sometimes worth doing anyway.

It’s about knowing that everything may not ‘be okay’ and it may continue to be hard work. Most importantly it’s about self-forgiveness and compassion.

I liked that there was really no ‘a-ha’ moment in terms of what led Astrid to become dependent on alcohol and what continued to drag her back there despite several interventions. And what allows (or might allow) it to ‘stick’ this time around.

As someone who has battled compulsive eating behaviour / issues for much of my life I could very much relate to this desire to make changes and the constant battle to fight our own inertia, our habitude, our predisposition to react and behave in an unhealthy way.

All of these feelings are so destabilizing. For years, I’ve drowned them in alcohol. Now they’re clamouring to the surface and gasping for air. A tsunami of emotions and sensations. This must be what it’s like for a blind person who’s suddenly able to see. I have to separate out the shapes and colours of my changing moods, learn to recognize them for what they are. p 48

I’ve seen a bit of hype building around this book from other reviewers and booksellers and think it’ll be a popular new year read. It’s not your usual ‘light’ holiday fare but it’s certainly engaging.

The focus of this book is on relationships – including that we have with ourself. It’s underpinned by powerful and confronting themes: of honesty and lies; of guilt; and of messed-up lives and whether redemption is even (always) possible.

Mum’s brushing her hair when I peer round her bedroom door, my chest heaving from having run all the way home. She looks up in surprise, her face etched with concern, and I know in that instant what I’ve always known, deep down, that her love for me is fierce, protective. That she loves me as only a mother can. And I love her. p 182

Who Did You Tell? by Lesley Kara will be published in Australia by Penguin and available in early January 2020.

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


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