This novel begins with the stark words that Lydia Lee is already dead. From this we are drawn skilfully into the lives of Marilyn and their three children: Lydia – frustrated, struggling and insecure; Nath – overshadowed and desperate to escape; and poor, unwanted, ignored Hannah who craves attention and whose silent presence hides a deep knowledge and understanding of the dynamics at work in this troubled family.
James is Chinese, Marilyn American. They marry at a time when such things were rare and controversial. Marilyn, stifled by a mother who fails to see the promise in her daughter, strives to succeed, to make a career and a life for herself. Then she marries James and her dreams are buried. She lives vicariously through Lydia, in who see sees the fulfilment of her own frustrated ambitions. But Lydia is hiding her true feelings; they seethe away inside and eventually lead her on a path that brings tragedy to everyone.
This is beautifully written and engaging. It isn’t a mystery or a crime thriller, but rather a deep and intriguing look at the dynamics of family and society and at how our expectations, our love and hope for our children can have consequences we never wished for.
The characters are well-developed and complex. Marilyn and James mess things up, make the wrong decisions for what they think are the right reasons, and, despite their best intentions, manage to completely misunderstand all three of their children. In short, they are human.
My only criticism is that I felt many aspects of this novel could have been developed further. There was more to be discovered in both Marilyn’s and James’ backgrounds. I also wanted to know more about Lydia – how things were at school for example. And more could have been made of Marilyn’s struggle to be recognised as more than ‘just’ a mother and a wife, and of her frustrations at the way her life has turned out.
Aside from that though, this is a great read and an impressive debut novel.
Find a copy here