Friday, 27 October 2017

BOOKCLUB: Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

This month on the Triskele Book Club, we're discussing Then She Was Gone, by Lisa Jewell

About the book:
A MISSING GIRL. A BURIED SECRET.

From the acclaimed author of I Found You and the Richard & Judy bestseller, The Girls, comes a compulsively twisty psychological thriller that will keep you gripped to the very last page.

She was fifteen, her mother's golden girl.
She had her whole life ahead of her.
And then, in the blink of an eye, Ellie was gone.

Ten years on, Laurel has never given up hope of finding Ellie. And then she meets a charming and charismatic stranger who sweeps her off her feet.

But what really takes her breath away is when she meets his nine-year-old daughter.

Because his daughter is the image of Ellie.

Now all those unanswered questions that have haunted Laurel come flooding back.

What really happened to Ellie? And who still has secrets to hide?

Discussion:

Then She Was Gone is a thriller. Which aspect chilled you the most?

(JDS) What got to me the most about it was the idea that the scenario in the book could quite easily happen in 'real life'. That unnerved me slightly. It was a very plausible situation.

(GEH) Agree that the total disappearance of Ellie, and the way the family fell apart, felt very believable. I found Noelle the most chilling character right from the very beginning her attitude towards Ellie felt wrong - so I think their relationship was probably the most chilling for me.

(JJ) The hamsters! Well, that and the psychological damage inflicted on all of Ellie's family by one seriously selfish individual. What chills me most about any of these abusive/controlling situations, is that it's probably someone you know.

(JDS) Oh yes, the hamsters! Very creepy.


The book centers on Laurel, the mother of Ellie who has gone missing. Do you think this was a wise focus to take with the book?

(GEH) Yes I think it was a good idea as Laurel was the key link with both the past and present story. Her life was destroyed when Ellie disappeared and we follow her journey right through to what she believes is her start of recovery when she meets a new man. We then see her feelings change again when she begins to question her new relationship.

(JJ) As a psychological thriller, I think Jewell takes the right perspective. We're in the head of a woman with something like PTSD, who begins to realise her all-consuming grief for her lost daughter causes her to neglect the rest of her family. Just when things start to look up, she begins to doubt herself and her relationship. She's not an unreliable narrator as such, simply doesn't trust herself any more.

(JDS) I really liked Laurel as a character and she's most affected by Ellie's disappearance. Everyone else, although they are obviously distraught by what's happened, move on in life. Laurel never really does. It makes her perspective so fascinating.


The book has plenty of moments which pull on your heart strings. Which elements did you find most poignant?

(JDS) The way Ellie's disappearance affected her family and the relationships between them actually affected me more than her going missing. Particularly the damage done to Laurel's relationship with her other daughter.

(GEH) I also liked the slow rebuilding of the relationship between Laurel and Hanna. But also I thought Poppy's odd character which ended in such worldly bravery was very poignant and I'm so glad she got a decent future to look forward to.

(JJ) The hamsters! There's also the tragedy (in the classical sense) of only one possible outcome for Ellie. We know what happened, but are gripped by the events that led to that-



Which was your favourite character and why?

(JDS) Sara-Jade by far. There was something really surreal and mysterious about her I couldn't quite figure out but she really drew my attention and I wanted to get to know her more.

(GEH) As mentioned above I'm going to go with Poppy. Who can imagine what she went through in her early years, then with her controlling father and the 'game' he put here through. I loved how her 'oddness' blossomed into 'strength' and thought she was really captivating.

(JJ) Yes, all the girls, including Hanna, were well drawn and side-stepped cliché. But I think the character I liked most would be Paul. He seemed such a decent guy, forgiving and gentle, with a patient appreciation of Laurel's emotional struggles, whilst he must have suffered agonies himself.


Do you think Laurel should have twigged what was going on earlier in the book? To the reader the unraveling of the plot happens a lot faster than it does for her.

(GEH) You're right to say that I (as a reader) grew suspicious much sooner than she did. But in her defence we did have numerous other POVS to read who were drip-feeding us the background. I think Laurel had been so numb and damaged for so long, that when she discovered she was still an attractive women, she maybe got carried away with the attention and ignored the warning signals. She came good in the end though which was the main thing.

(JJ) As you both say, the structure of the book makes the reader privy to a lot more information than the characters. Plus the circumstances are so absolutely outlandish, it would take a twisted mind to imagine such a thing could happen. Yet happen it has - see Josef Fritzl. No, I think part of the pleasure is watching Laurel piece together the clues and wondering if we'll reach the same conclusion.


Each character's story wraps up nicely by the end, but do you think they got what they deserved? Would you have liked to see any of the character's storylines end differently?

(GEH) No, personally I thought all the threads were tied up nicely, and yes, everyone got what they deserved in one way or another.

(JJ) I wish Floyd's journey had ended differently. For all his faults (and there are more than a few), he really loved Poppy and Laurel.

(JDS) I'm with JJ, I kind of wished Floyd's journey had been a little happier.


How do you feel about characters who are drawn to or become embroiled in relationships with unhinged characters?

(GEH) I think they make for extremely good psychological thrillers!

(JJ) I'm more concerned about those people we don't realise are unhinged, and don't share a relationship of any kind, unless it's in their mind. When Noelle meets Ellie on the street and reacts so badly to not being recognised - that twisted my gut.

(JDS) I'm in agreement with Noelle meeting Ellie on the street. So sad, and so affected by it. I think we as people can all be drawn to slightly unhinged characters because they're interested - even though we generally quickly back away when we realise how disturbed they are.


Poppy is a 'unique' character. Did you like or loathe her? How did she make you feel?

(GEH) I may have covered this above but I grew from confusion to real appreciation of her character as her story was uncovered.

(JJ) She's precocious and as such can be irritating and delightful in turn. But she's nine years old and had a very bizarre upbringing. By the end of the book, I felt sure she'd turn out just fine.

(JDS) I found her really odd to start with. I wasn't that keen on her as a person, but she made for a fascinating character and I think she will grow up to be a wonderful person in Laurel's care.


Where do you think Poppy's 'weirdness' stems from? 

(GEH) Principally from her weird father! The lack of real affection in her life must have also played its part, but for most of her life she had simply been a pawn in a weird game of chess and there's little chance she could have come through that without being emotionally scarred.

(JJ) Intelligence, lack of interaction with other children her age, stifling attention from her father, too much time alone, under-developed social skills.


There's a sense of all is not lost and of future hope by the end of the novel. Did you find your feelings between this and Ellie's demise conflicted?

(GEH) No, not really. Because it is a fact of life that life does go on however awful the death of a loved one, and however deep the grieving process. And it's that light at the end of the tunnel that comes through with this book. I thought it worked very well.

(JJ) That's one thing the author pulls off perfectly. Although there is a sense of closure, there's also unbearable regret. As readers, we're still wishing for a happy ending for Ellie (not to mention the hamsters) even though we know that's impossible. But Gilly's right, we gain a sense of development, acceptance and for the characters, a hopefulness for the future. I'd say pretty much all of them are going to need years of therapy, but might just work out as a team. It reflects the messiness of life.

(JDS) I really appreciated the lightness at the end and the great sense of hope. I think it was incredibly well written and also a reminder to us all when we're despairing or grieving that there's always hope to be found.


Read our interview with Lisa Jewell in Words with JAM magazine

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