Leaving The World by Douglas Kennedy


WARNING – Usually when I write about a book I try to not give away more of the plot than you would pick up from the dust jacket and promotion for the book. This time I am going to give away a little more – I have to in order to explain myself properly. So if you are thinking of reading the book and don’t want it spoiled please don’t read on. But do come back when you have read it so we can compare notes.

A few years ago Douglas Kennedy wrote a trio of books that I really enjoyed (The Pursuit of Happiness, A Special Relationship and State of the Union). They were compelling stories of women dealing with interesting issues and challenges. I was disappointed in his next two books (Temptation and The Woman in the Fifth). Less interesting male leads and much more fanciful storylines. Not terrible but nowhere near as good as the preceding trio.

So when Leaving The World came out I didn’t rush to get hold of a copy and I took a close look before I brought a copy home from the library. From the synopsis it looked as if the Leaving The World could be a return to form. A female lead and an interesting concept. So I gave Douglas Kennedy the benefit of the doubt and took out his book.

“On the night of my thirteenth birthday, I made an announcement. “I am never getting married and I am never having children.”

Those are the opening lines. There was bags of potential in the story of a woman who decided at an early age that family life wasn’t for her – but that wasn’t the story that unravelled.

Jane was a bright girl who grew into an intelligent and caring adult. The story follows her through college, a relationship waith a married professor, a short-lived career in finance and a move back into academia. It was certainly compelling, but a pattern quickly emerged. Always Jane would do the right thing but run into problems when other people, starting with her parents, let her down.

And then, in the early stages of a relationship, Jane fell pregnant. All her doubts about motherhood flew out of the window and her daughter quickly became the centre of her universe.

Ony then – remember the pattern – the father of her daughter let Jane down in a big, big way.

I thought that might not be a bad thing. I would have been happy to see Jane forge ahead as a single parent. But that didn’t happen – she lost her child.

It was then that Jane considered leaving the world – and after some turmoil ended up leaving the world she knew for a quieter life working as a librarian in a small town. Was that what the story was heading to – a realisation of what was importany in life. Friends and community, rather than career success and material possessions.

Could be, but there was yet more drama to come. For reasons to complex to explain, Jane inveigled her way into the centre of a major criminal investigation. Was it compelling? Yes. Was it believable? No. Did it belong in another book entirely? Yes.

When the case was closed Jane finally returned home and began to plan for the future. And that was where we left her.

The story had been gripping and I really cared about what happened to Jane, but I was emotionally drained.

And ultimately I was disappointed in Leaving The World. There were so many missed opportunities and a much better, much simpler story that could have flowed from thoses two opening lines.

7 responses

  1. Good analysis of the author’s books and this particular story. It sounds like it just wanders all over the place. I would probably give up on it.

  2. I liked your thoughts on this book and the opening lines would’ve made me pursue this read for sure. I’m sorry that the ending turned out that way!

  3. Kathy – It happens, but lukily not too often.

    Anna – There was definitely too much drama.

    JoAnn – There was definitely too much emotion packed into one life.

    Margot – Despite the flaws the story was compelling and I did want to know what happened to Jane. I think maybe Douglas Kennedy needs to write a crime novel rather than just squeeze that into an already busy book.

    Staci – It was a great opening but the book just didn’t live up to it. A firm conclusion was always going to be difficult after what Jane went through, but a little more clarity would have been good.

  4. Pingback: Semicolon » Blog Archive » Saturday Review of Books: July 18, 2009

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