All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

The Things We Never Said – Susan Elliot Wright

on June 7, 2013

Things Never SaidThe Things We Never Said
Susan Elliot Wright
Simon & Schuster UK
2013, 374p
Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster AUS

In 1964, Maggie wakes up to find herself in a mental asylum with no idea of who she is or how she came to be there. Maggie learns quickly to temper her behaviour – any emotion, any lashing out and your name goes down for “treatment”. You don’t remember the treatment when you wake up from it, but there are flashes – being strapped down, something to bite on, searing pain.

In the present day, Jonathan’s life is turning inside out. The teacher has been accused of physical assault by one of his difficult students and has been suspended pending investigation. He has been arrested and although his lawyer is sure it’ll be thrown out, Jonathan has to endure the humiliation and injustice of the process. After a long time of being married, his wife is finally pregnant but instead of bringing the two of them closer, it seems to be driving a wedge between them. Jonathan’s father, an authoritarian type figure from his childhood has also just passed away – before Jonathan got to tell him about the baby and also before Jonathan ever really found out whether or not he was proud of him or not. He spent his whole life trying to get some sort of approval from his father and now it seems as though he’s failed once again – permanently this time.

After Jonathan is arrested, his DNA is run through the system and to his surprise, a detective pays him a visit. It seems that Jonathan’s DNA is a partial match to that from some cold case crimes, which means the perpetrator is a close relative of Jonathan’s. Both Jonathan and Maggie will find out that nothing is how what they thought it was and that they are connected by those unsolved cold case crimes.

I love reading books set in or partially in mental asylums, especially set in the past when the practices were barbaric, considering modern day medicine. Reading from a modern standpoint, the things that some of these patients went through is pretty horrific, but it does make for an amazing setting in fiction.

When Maggie wakes up, she doesn’t know who she is or why she’s there. She has to piece together her life, the tragic events that shaped her mental breakdown that led to her being incarcerated. She learns very quickly by way of watching others that it doesn’t do to lash out against the nurses, who are often unsympathetic. Overt displays of emotion or daydreaming aren’t great either, all of that tends to have your name down for treatment the next day. Maggie has only a few fragments of memory – a song, the number 13, a bad storm and a moment of violence. The reason behind Maggie’s stay in the asylum was not what I expected and I loved that aspect of the story. My heart broke for her (for more than one reason) and I admired her strength, her determination and sympathised with her when it all went wrong no matter how much effort she put in. She had a hard lot to deal with and her downfall was not an unbelievable occurrence.

In the modern day story, Jonathan has also been dealt a less than ideal sort of life. With an abusive, authoritarian father and a mother that turned a total blind eye, Jonathan has lived with being a disappointment and a bore to his father every day. Now that he is to become a father himself, he wonders whether or not he will be able to parent in a manner that was different to what he experienced himself, or is he doomed to repeat a vicious cycle. His hesitation to tell his parents that he and his wife are expecting, for fear of his father’s reaction is telling of the kind of emotional abuse he has received. He’s a grown man of 40, not a teenager who has knocked up his girlfriend and yet time and time again, he weasels out of confiding their news. His father dies before he ever gets the chance and although Jonathan grieves for him and the fact that he will never secure his approval, his death also begins to open up secrets in the family. Those secrets will help Jonathan understand his father a little more and also help him realise that he is not necessarily doomed to repeat his father’s mistakes.

I felt for Jonathan too. A secondary teacher at a high school with ‘difficult students’ he is pushed too far one day and then accused of physical assault. There’s no doubt that what Jonathan did was wrong, but it wasn’t assault. And instead of being given support and perhaps ways on which he could’ve better dealt with the situation, his place of employment wipes their hands of him basically, while the investigation is taking place. It made me realise what a difficult position teachers must be placed in sometimes – they’re in a position of power over a student and obviously must take great responsibility but often it is the student that holds the power – especially that over a teacher’s career. One accusation and they can become unemployable. Likewise, one move out of place toward a student, and they can ruin that student’s life. It’s a delicate balance and the incident seems to come at a time when Jonathan is already emotionally disturbed. He probably shouldn’t have been at work.

The Things We Never Said had me engrossed from the first page to the last. I loved the way in which the two stories were woven together and how some things were there for the reader to put together and figure out but other things were a total surprise, especially the character of Maggie. I thought the author greatly explored what could happen to the human psyche when it had been knocked time and time again. Susan Elliot Wright has definitely made her way onto my ‘authors to watch’ list.


Book #137 of 2013

One response to “The Things We Never Said – Susan Elliot Wright

  1. Oh, this one is already on my TBR list, so I skimmed your post enough to know it must creep up said pile!!!!!

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