Thursday, 6 April 2017

Book Review: THE ORPHANS by Annemarie Neary

Author: Annemarie Neary
Random House UK, Cornerstone
March 2017
Expected publication: 15 June 2017

Synopsis (Goodreads):

Goa, 1992.
Six year old Jess and her little brother Sparrow are on the beach, playing at the water’s edge. They look to the place where Mama and Pa had been sitting, but there’s no one there. Jess and Sparrow hold hands and sit on the sand so that they can catch the moment when their parents come back. But nobody comes back.

And one sleep goes by and then two, and then twenty-two, then forty, then ninety-five, right to the end of numbers. And nobody came back.

London, 2017.
Jess, now a lawyer, wife and mother has become a locker of doors. She has built walls around her life and her ordered home to keep further disaster at bay.

Ro has taken a different path. He has followed his missing mother all his life in the hope that one day he will find her and she will love him again.

When Ro steps through the garden gate back into Jess’s carefully guarded world, bad things start to happen.

The time has come for Jess to find out what happened on the beach that day.

My thoughts:

If you had Mama for a day, what would you ask her? If you had Mama for a week, where would you want her to take you?

In 1992, Jess and Sparrow are two naked golden-skinned children on a golden beach in Goa, digging in the sand and looking for shells, living a carefree life with their unconventional hippie parents. But their childhood is about to change forever when both their parents disappear without a trace. One minute they are right there with them, the next they are gone. Whilst their father‘s body is later discovered in a nearby copse of trees, a suspected drug deal gone wrong, their mother has never been found. Now in their late twenties and early thirties, the siblings are still haunted by the mystery of their mother’s disappearance. Is it possible that Sophie could still be alive? Sparrow, who has spent his entire adult life chasing leads that may lead him to his mother, firmly believes so, and is off to Ireland to track down his latest lead, an old friend of Sophie’s from their wandering years. Jess, on the other hand, has moved on with her life by blocking out her childhood trauma, although deep down she knows it has affected her in many subtle ways. Knowing how to be a good mother to her toddler Ruby, for example, who at times seems more attached to their horrible nanny Hana than she is to Jess. Or the way she buries herself in work and turns a blind eye to her husband’s infidelities, for the simple fear of further abandonment and tragedy.

One disaster doesn’t stop the others from lining up to take its place.

When the police contact Jess to tell her that an old passport of her mother’s has been found in the caravan of a dead woman in Ireland, history comes back to haunt her once again. How did it get there, and why is it in her mother’s maiden name, with a photo Jess does not recognise? And worst of all, where is Sparrow, and what is his involvement? So many questions without answers. Jess, who has successfully suppressed the memories of that fateful day for decades, realises that she can no longer run away from the past.

It still seems impossible, the comprehensive loss of both parents. Not a scrap of evidence. Just the disbelief, the sudden void, the constant chatter of voices she didn’t understand, the fear that nothing would ever be safe again.

The Orphans is a poignant story of tragedy and grief, and the after effects of one of the most devastating of all losses – the death or disappearance of a parent. Having lost my own mother at a young age, I could fully relate to the gaping hole Sophie’s disappearance has left in the siblings’ lives. Jess, who is constantly searching for her own identity as a woman, wife and mother. And Sparrow, who has forever remained a small boy at heart, putting his life on hold to invest all his energies in trips around the world in the hopes of finding his mother alive and well. Seeing her image in every stranger who remotely bears a resemblance to the Sophie of his childhood, the older woman she may have become.  

Yes, I do, I miss her. I have always missed her. I am only a scrap of the person I should be.

With the discovery of Sophie’s old passport, the old wound is ripped open again, and Jess must face up to the prospect that their mother willingly abandoned them. Is the possibility that Sophie is alive and choosing not to make contact with her family worse than the thought of her being dead? Suddenly all the excuses Jess has made for her mother, all the scenarios she has pictured in her mind, come crashing down in the face of that huge possible betrayal.

 And there, into the space Jess has made for her, comes Sophie Considine, who was Mary really, and who, it seems, will never go away but linger uselessly at the margins – a reminder of the traps life lays for the unwary, and of the numerous ways a mother can fall short.

The Orphans is a sensitively drawn and sometimes heart-breaking story of growing up in the shadow of childhood trauma, with the gaping hole left behind by the death or disappearance of the people who are supposed to love us most of all – our parents. With small flashbacks to that fateful day on the beach, and mounting tension as the siblings must face up to the past once more, the reader is drawn into a story where tragedy is always just a step away. I very much enjoyed Nearys’ writing style, and look forward to reading more from this author in future.

 Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

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Swimming Lessons Swimming Lessons, by Claire Fuller

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