Author: Susan Elliott Wright
The Things We Said is a fabulous debut by Susan Elliott Wright that tracks two timelines, two protagonists and two very different stories. I found it a little slow starting, it took a while for me to become invested but once the narratives really started to unfold I was hooked.
Maggie awakens in a mental hospital in 1964 with no idea why she’s there, not to mention who she is. It doesn’t take long for her to learn what’s expected and what behaviours will earn her a place on the ‘treatment’ list. Slowly Maggie begins to piece together her memories and remember what brought her to this point, though some memories remain elusive for many years. Once Maggie remembers why she is in the hospital her narrative jumps back to 1962 so that we can watch her story unfold.
Jonathan is struggling with impending fatherhood in 2008 and coming to terms with the death of his father. He and his father were far from close, Gerald was quite distant and always left Jonathan feeling like he was lacking. The death of his father is the beginning of his comfortable and stable life beginning to crumble. He finds himself suspended from his teaching position, charged by the police and his marriage fast begins to feel the strain.
Maggie is a fresh faced 21 year old in 1962, she has moved to Sheffield to work in Theatre and is living in a boarding house. Things are looking good for her until the night of the freak storm that hits Sheffield, and is the first night that Maggie loses time. Life as she knows it is about to change quite dramatically on the path to her committal in the mental hospital. I can’t imagine being a single young woman in the past, with all the risks and threats to reputation. Maggie’s journey is heartbreaking and there are some unexpected shocks in her narrative that touched me, I couldn’t help but feel for her and the struggles she had to endure.
Jonathan is quite wrapped up in all of the events that have hit his life and as it snowballs a distance grows between he and Fiona. She just wants to be wrapped up in the pregnancy that took them so long to create but Jonathan is too focused on everything else. They are both quite selfish and there isn’t a lot of two way communication until Fiona decides she needs time out and heads to her parents for a break.
Jonathan’s assault charge sees his DNA collected and keyed in to the system, throwing up a connection to cold cases from the past and bringing a detective to his door, because there isn’t enough going on for him already. This visit sets a whole new set of wheels in motion that leave Jonathan reeling and really questioning who he is.
Impending fatherhood scares Jonathan, that’s plain to see. His father was distant and cold, they never got on and Jonathan never felt good enough so he is scared that he won’t measure up as a father. He failed as a son so how will he do better as a parent, on the other hand there’s the fear that he will have inherited that style of parenting from his father and he will end up being the same type of father to his son. Quite common fears I think, the sort of thing we all face at times because we always want to make sure our children have the best upbringing. These fears change as Jonathan’s story unfolds, they change and they transform leaving him even more scared than when he started. Fears are natural in the lead up to a first child and I don’t think anyone anywhere can say they were never scared in the lead up to the birth of their first, to be honest there are still things that scare the life out of me in the days leading up to the birth of my third. One of Jonathan’s issues is that he lets his fears cripple him and distance him from his wife, who is facing fears of her own.
A near catastrophe brings Fiona and Jonathan back together and forces Jonathan to change his perspective and reevaluate what’s important to him. The unfolding of events sees him begin to remember his childhood in a different light and the grief he was feeling guilty about not feeling begins to creep in.
The Things We Never Said covers many issues and heartbreaking conflicts including loss, grief, rape, abuse and mental health issues in a time when treatment was brutal. Not a story that grabbed me from page one but when it did grab me I didn’t want to put it down. I wanted to uncover the whole story and find out how the two narratives were entwined. An accomplished debut that will have me keeping an eye out for subsequent titles from this author.