I’ve been trying to think of a way to write about all of these books. I’ve made a list, accidentally lost said list (I thought WordPress autosaved, what happened there?!), and trawled my inbox and bookshelves to remind me of those books I won, got given, bought on a whim. But what now? The best place to start, feels to be the book I finished most recently. Not only because it’s fresh in mind, but because this one really made me want to talk. I’ve had the first line of the following post going round in my head since a third of the way through, although I’m not sure that’s a good thing.
Everything I Never Told You
This book is full of loneliness. It seeps out, slowly to start with, and then you can’t really avoid it as you get swept up, or away, in Everything I Never Told You.
Firstly, let’s start with the fact that this book looks great. Really great. Super job, Blackfriars. It’s one of those where I knew it was on my to read list, but by the time I got around to purchasing it I couldn’t actually remember why it was there. Because it wasn’t just the story that pulled me in. I think I heard about it, I was interested, it was doing the rounds internally at work before I left Hachette towers, it looked fab, even the title is my kind of title. The kind of one liner I’d have used for my MSN name back in the day.
So, I went for it. The first thing I noticed was the endorsement used on the front: “This ghostly novel calls to mind The Lovely Bones.” Which put me off, a little. Not that I didn’t think The Lovely Bones was excellent, I just wasn’t taken with the “ghostly” concept, and “calls to mind” suggests it evokes something else, but maybe doesn’t stand on its own. To me, anyhow. From reading the blurb, I was expecting a book about people, about a family, about fitting in, or not, and about the weight of everyone else’s choices. And that’s what I got.
Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.
This is how Celeste Ng starts her debut novel. And I’ll be honest, it doesn’t really brighten up from here. There are moments of love, and happiness, but they don’t seem to matter. There were times, scenes, comments, that really made me flinch. I know people do and say terrible things sometimes, and it’s like not I only ever read chirpy, fluffy stories, but it cut to the quick. I think Ng is brave and I think it must have taken some strength to write. Everyone has their own fears and concerns, but I think loneliness is all pervading. It tugs at the heartstrings, and made me shuffle over to be a little closer to my husband as I read.
As the story unfolds, you learn more about Lydia, her siblings, her parents and the circumstances that have lead to them living in small-town Ohio, hearing the news that their daughter’s body has been discovered in the local lake. The beauty’s in the detail, and the way that Ng unveils her characters; actions do speak louder than words. I was driven to keep reading, not primarily because I wanted to find out what happened to Lydia, it almost didn’t matter, but just to know more.
So I kept going, even though at a basic level, this book made me sad. Not in a ‘have a good cry’ kind of way, either. I found it confrontational. And that’s probably no bad thing. The issues Ng confronts – race, ambition, success, feminism, ethnicity, marriage, family, are real and can be difficult and upsetting; challenging; inspiring; and isolating. Ng develops a varied cast, and all with insight and sensitivity.
It’s not a long novel, but it’s a massive read. Plus, it’ll look wonderful on your bedside table.