Book reviews, Culture, In Focus, United Kingdom

What was lost

Psychological thrillers written by women, often with the word ‘girl’ in the title, have been coming thick and fast over the last few years.


Sean Sheehan


The victims of these novels – housebound by agoraphobia, alcoholic, unrecovered from their twin sister’s violent demise/loss of a child/husband/parent/ self-harming/ suppressing a terrible secret of some kind/ duped by an apparent carer/ stalked for no apparent reason by a crazy person – fight their way through dangers to a final, not always satisfying resolution. And readers love it – schadenfreude, all the way down.

In “What was lost”, her first published novel, Jean Levy seizes the genre and gives it a hearty shake to produce a satisfying cocktail of fiction.

Sarah, our heroine wakes up in hospital with the memories of a small child. Her adult life has been wiped from her mind by some terrible incident which left her unconscious and  badly injured on a beach far from her home.

She must learn to live as an adult again and hope that she will eventually recover her lost decades. Sarah is sent home to an apartment stripped of everything that might suddenly bring the trauma home to her and destroy what little memory she has.

Jean Levy

The few people who are allowed by her doctors into her life are clearly keeping secrets from her.

So far so good – all the boxes ticked.  Revealing just how Sarah recovers her memories would be a major spoiler but safe to say the trip to the end of the story keeps us guessing.

We have our list of suspects – was it the gorgeous apparently new boyfriend?  the boyfriend’s nasty ex?

Sarah herself, as the policewoman thinks? And what happened anyway and where is Sarah’s family? In a series of reveals and flashbacks, the story unfolds to an ending that defies the genre.

What gives quality to this novel are the funny, lively and fully fleshed out characters that gradually repopulate Sarah’s life as seeks to fill the lacuna in her sense of identity.

Here are people you would like to know, from the wild best friend to the motherly cleaning lady, the considerate doctor, the over-the-top editor of her books.

Sarah’s path back to adulthood and recovery, although it has its darker moments, is a light hearted one as she fumbles with driving a car, shopping, remembering how  to write her children’s stories, sexual desire and, a tricky business, negotiating  the complex art of dealing with other people.

The bad guys – there are always bad guys – are also a delight and they receive their well-deserved comeuppance.

And in here too is a discussion of memory, how Sarah’s mind has created, and carries on creating, blocks, wiping out newly acquired information even as she discovers it. Dark it isn’t but the story is a compelling one. What are we but the sum total of our memories and how devastating it would be to lose them.

“What was lost”, by Jean Levy, is published by Dome Press.

(Photos provided by the publisher)

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