Scissors, Paper, Stone.
I wanted to start by explaining why I love the classic game and why it suited this debut novel so well, but the words just wouldn’t come. So I’ll just write a little about the book rather than delay any longer.
It begins so well.
A middle-aged cyclist has come off the worst in a collision and is lying, injured and semiconscious on the ground. Elizabeth Day put me there on the ground with him, and I realised there and then that she really could write.
But this isn’t his story. Charles Redfearn lies in hospital, in a coma, as the stories of his wife and daughter, of their damaged relationships with him and with each other unfold.
“They were two women whose growth had been stunted by the same man, whose confidence and sense of self had been warped by being planted in his shadow.”
Ann was at home, cooking, when the news of her husband’s accident came. She took it calmly, and she finished what she was doing before she set out for the hospital. A small but striking sign of independence, of resistance.
Ann had met Charles at college. She was pretty, under-confident and compliant. He was confident, charming and manipulative. Ann became a trophy wife, unable to admit that she had made a terrible mistake, and either unwilling or unable to do anything about her situation.
I understood her, sadly there are so many women like her, but I wanted to shake her.
Particularly when, early on. I learned that Charles treatment of his daughter had crossed acceptable boundaries, and that her mother had known but chosen to do nothing, to bury her head in the sand.
I understood too why Charlotte was estranged from her parents, and reluctant to visit her father’s bedside. And why she was so needy, and horribly demanding of assurance of her recently divorced boyfriend’s love for her. He was so patient but I wanted to scream at her that she could so easily drive him away.
Two flawed, fragile, utterly believable women.
Circumstances forced them together. They had to talk, had to deal with things. Neither understood the other, how they lived, the choices they had made. And so there was much misunderstanding, much miscommunication. It was compelling, and it rang horribly, horribly true.
Elizabeth Day managed her story well, moving between past and present stories seamlessly, and making her points quietly but effectively. Her plain and simple prose suited the story. Her storytelling was clear, objective and never lost its grip.
But I did wish that she didn’t feel the need to explain quite so much, to set out the reasons for every action, every gesture set out. Her characters were so well-defined, so believable that she really just had to let them speak and act.
The ending felt a little too neat, but I think that was inevitable. A novel has to end, but in life there are always things that can’t be resolved, can’t be accepted, wrongs that can’t be put right.
That ending, the whole book, made me think.
Because Elizabeth Day has handled dark and difficult subject matter that it would be so easy to sensationalize, with intelligence and sensitivity.
And that is something that I have to applaud.