Some events cause ripples. Other events shape lives.

When Samuel Darte’s mother disappears one morning, his life doesn’t alter course slightly, it derails and becomes stuck. Stunned by the suddenness of it all, Samuel is disbelieving, determined to uncover the truth at the cost of his own life, which remains immured in a past he can no longer completely recall.

What’s it about?

Bereavement. Betrayal. Guilt. The unreliable nature of memory and the subjective notion of truth. The trauma a family can inflict and the devastation uncertainty can wreak on lives, once full of potential, that become mere existences. This perhaps risks making the story sound grim. It isn’t at all: it’s an engaging tale of a man’s journey back from near total self-absorption and obsession.

It can take a death to save a life. When Samuel learns that his long ignored ‘Gramma’ is dying in a local care home, he visits out of duty and a sense that the truth of that day, the fateful day his mother disappeared, leaving behind a note and her wedding ring, will die with this woman he loathes – but don’t expect the outcome to be as simple as that.

What’s it like?

This is a fascinating portrait of a man so intent on discovering the ‘truth’ as he perceives it that he has neglected the potential of the rest of his life. I felt like I absolutely understood Samuel’s quest, whilst at the same time sorrowing for his losses – friends, family members, lovers.

There are hints that Samuel is not a completely reliable narrator and I particularly enjoyed the slight unravelling of his perceptions when his ‘failure’ brother came to visit.

His gently burgeoning relationship with his grandmother is bittersweet but obviously healing, despite the harshness of reality; Samuel is sitting in her care home room, waiting for her to die, wishing he could shake information from her like a tree giving up its leaves, but the transactional element (wanting the ‘truth’) gradually becomes less important than the unspoken reconciliation.

Similarly, the tentative buds of his relationship with his younger brother are heart-warming, and just as the reader thinks Samuel may be granted the chance to heal, Lee turns the whole narrative upside down with a well-chosen word…

Final thoughts

It’s no surprise to learn that Lee is a mental health campaigner as well as a successful author. This is in many ways a very gentle story with a slim plot and a firm focus on the impact of tragedy on a family. At the same time, this is a deeply suspenseful story that I longed to have resolved. While I had my suspicions, the ending was still incredibly powerful; the potential repercussions are fascinating and part of me would have loved an epilogue, but equally I quite like to imagine how Samuel would handle it. I feel like I know him by now and I feel certain his Gramma wouldn’t approve!

Overall I thought this was beautifully written, I enjoyed having Samuel as the slightly unreliable narrator and I appreciated the aplomb of the ending. I’ll certainly be investigating Lee’s earlier books.

M. Jonathan Lee,
2020, Hideaway Fall, hardback

My edition is a little special: you can start reading it from either end! Please note the double-ended upside-down opening is available in books ordered in hard copy from UK booksellers only.

Many thanks to Hideaway Fall for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.