In Her Wake, by Amanda Jennings, is a psychological thriller that crosses genres into literary and women’s fiction. If, like me, you dislike pigeon holing books then this is a good example of why doing so can limit the potential outreach of what is a great read. It has well developed, believable characters and a plot that has breadth and depth. The tension required for a thriller is there in spades but this is also a story about people and the importance of family. It will leave the reader pondering well beyond the final page.
The protagonist is Bella, a compliant young librarian married to an older man who wants them to have a baby. Her husband likes to look after her. His need to control every aspect of her life appears creepy but Bella’s acceptance of it becomes more understandable when the details of her childhood are revealed.
Bella was sheltered from the outside world by her devoted if neurotic mother. She was home schooled, rarely permitted to leave their home where doors were triple bolted and curtains remained drawn. Links with the outside world were strictly limited; television was forbidden. Bella’s father, a doctor, was a kind but distant parent whose main concern was protecting his wife from the upsets which caused her to self harm.
The story opens with Bella’s return to the family home for her mother’s funeral. Her father has something he needs to tell her but cannot find the words. Following his death Bella finds a letter revealing that their close family unit was a sham. Twenty-five years ago her parents committed a heinous crime, the consequences of which led to their need to raise her as they did.
Bella is grieving, not just for the parents she now feels she did not know, but for the person she could have been if they had not acted as they did. She travels to Cornwall to confront her past, to try to reclaim what was stolen from her.
Life is rarely simple; people are never solely good or bad. Throughout her secluded childhood Bella was surrounded by love. So long as she remained compliant her parents and then her husband provided for her every need. Now she discovers the harsher realities of what could have been. Her life of ease, albeit in a gilded cage, came at a terrible cost both to those who were given no choice and to those who were complicit.
The opening chapters of this tale were pacy and powerful. I then felt some impatience with subsequent chapters in the first third of the book as they did not quickly satisfy my desire to find out what would happen next. It was necessary to understand the nuances of Bella’s life up to this point. The descriptions of place beautifully evoked the majesty and danger of the Cornish landscape which became an integral part of the story. I was still relieved when the pace picked up. It did not then relent until the well executed denouement tied up the many threads.
The narrative probes the meaning of family and how expectations of the roles within it shape character and relationships. It is also about the complexity of love. What an individual is attracted to in another may not be what the loved one wishes to be themselves.
I enjoyed Bella’s development but, for me, Dawn was the hero. The contrast between the experiences of these two young women offers an interesting exploration into the importance of nature vs nurture.
A well written book with a multi layered plot populated by believable characters. This was an enjoyable and satisfying read.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Orenda.
This review is the penultimate stop on the In Her Wake blog tour. Do check out the other posts in the tour, detailed above.
This coming weekend, Amanda will be a featured author at Newcastle Noir.