I have to say straight off that I absolutely loved this book and didn’t see the ending coming at all. I thought it was very cleverly written and was so impressed with it that I was overcome with the sudden desire to email the author and tell her how much I enjoyed it. I’d never written a fan mail before so I was very pleased to receive a reply.
The story revolves around Bee an English woman living and working in New York, whose sister Tess is missing in London. Bee gets the first flight back to the UK to help in the search. The story is told from a point in time four months after Tess’s disappearance, as Bee is making a detailed witness statement to the prosecuting lawyer, Mr Wright, in what is apparently a murder case. There are many twists and surprises in the story and Bee’s investigation is long and detailed.
The story begins in the depths of winter when there is snow on the ground and the raw weather seems to seep into the bones of the characters. There is little comfort in this phase of the tale, even Tess’s flat is in a poor state of repair and badly heated, so that Bee gets no comfort even from Tess’s home. This was an excellent backdrop to the first part of the novel where Tess’s body is found and it’s clear she’s been murdered. The frozen weather perfectly reflects the raw emotions expressed by the characters as they come to terms with their loss and the manner in which it occurred. There was no comfort anywhere at this time, in the characters’ grief, in the sleeting weather, in Tess’s almost uninhabitable home. Even Bee’s clothes didn’t keep her warm. All these details add to the feelings of devastation and loss that were being described. I don’t think that this would have been so effective if it had taken place in any other season. The bleakness of the landscape matched the bleakness of the plot.
As Bee’s investigation progresses from initial shock and grief to eventually discovering what happened to Tess, the weather also begins to thaw and the cold frozen ground of winter develops into spring. Buds start to appear on the landscape as the truth of what has occurred begins to dawn. During the investigation, Bee seems to adopt more of her sister’s persona. She wears Tess’s clothes, so different in style and quality from her own. For want of a visit to the hairdresser, Bee’s hair starts to resemble Tess’s and even their mother remarks, towards the end of the book, how much Bee has come to take on her sister’s appearance.
The only criticism I initially had of the book is that I was on occasion confused between what moment in time was actually being discussed and I would have to go back a page or so to make sense of the story. The story was told in flashback, as Bee was narrating to Mr Wright the lawyer how her investigation had progressed and I was often wondering whether she was actually sitting with Mr Wright, or whether she was actually living in the situation she was describing. However, as the ending of the book became clearer and the true situation more apparent, it suddenly didn’t matter that I was a little confused because Bee was also probably becoming confused and less coherent in her recollections. This came through beautifully in the story and although it was confusing at the time, it matched perfectly the twist at the end of the story.
And what a spectacular twist it was! Stop reading now if you don’t want to know how the book ends.
It transpires that there is no Mr Wright. The whole story has been told while Bee is laying on the same toilet block floor as her sister, captured by the same man who killed her sister, and left there to die, the same as Tess. Bee is reciting the story to keep herself alive. As a new day dawns over Hyde Park, Bee can hear the voices of her Polish flatmate, Kasia, and the police, who are searching for her. Does Bee die the same death as her sister? Is the arrival of the cavalry real or imagined by Bee? The ending of the book makes this ambiguous. I read that the voices Bee is hearing are real and she is rescued. The author confirms that this is what she had in mind when the story was written. It’s very credible, how Kasia would know something was wrong, especially after receiving the text of Polish words for leaving a fingerprint. She would know what that meant. However, it could be read that hypothermia has set in and Bee is hallucinating, and is therefore not rescued. Personally, I prefer the happier outcome.
This is a debut novel from Rosamund Lupton. Full of imagery and clever twists, it is one of the best stories I have read in a very long time.