Penguin Books AUS
Copy courtesy of the publisher
Jen has been married to her husband Jason for over twenty years and they’ve just seen off the second of their two daughters to university, leaving her with a bit of an empty nest syndrome. As a family unit they worked but Jen finds that with her and Jason on their own, life isn’t exactly as she expected it would be. She feels a bit empty, lost without anyone to look after and she and Jason don’t really seem to be connecting. The bright spots are visiting Jason’s parents at their large country house – for Jen who grew up with only a mother in her family, Jason’s larger, colourful family are amazing. She loves them all and loves being a part of their closely knit clan.
But then Jen discovers a secret about someone – by accident. She’s not sure what to do with the information. She could tell Jason but in doing so she would destroy his view of someone and quite possibly her marriage as well as someone else’s. But keeping this secret to herself is proving to be more difficult than Jen imagined. It’s festering away inside her head, longing to come out even though she knows the damage it would do would be irreparable. Jen doesn’t want to risk being cast out by Jason’s family either. She’s been a part of it for over twenty years and to be put out now would be unthinkable.
But if Jen doesn’t spill the secret, someone else threatens to. And that could be even more catastrophic than if Jen were to do it. She has to make a decision and quickly because secrets have a way of coming out, no matter what.
Skeletons is the fifth novel of English telelvision producer Jane Fallon, who has worked on shows such as This Life, which was one of my absolutely favourite shows as a teenager. It only ran for a couple of seasons but it was a punchy kind of show about a bunch of twenty-something lawyers sharing a large house in London. It probably helped launch the careers of Jack Davenport, now best known for his roles in the Pirates of the Carribean movies and the TV shows Flash Forward and Smash and Andrew Lincoln who has also appeared in the movie Love Actually and now stars in the cult hit The Walking Dead. Jason Hughes also appeared in the first season and then went on to become DCI Barnaby’s sidekick in later episodes of Midsomer Murders so This Life even 20 years later, has held up casting wise. I haven’t read any of Jane Fallon’s previous novels but I’ve heard some good things about Foursome so I was very excited to read this.
Jen’s father walked out when she was 8, leaving her with just her mother. She longed for more of a family and when she met Jason and his incredibly closeknit family, she was overjoyed to become part of it. They quickly married and had two young daughters, further cementing her within the clan. She soon preferred spending time with Jason’s family rather than her mother and became best friend’s with Jason’s sister Poppy. For Jen, life is perfect until her two daughters leave home for university, leaving her restless with Jason. When she discovers a shocking secret about someone she cares deeply about, a secret that would ruin her family, she becomes torn about what she should do.
Jen as a character, drove me nuts. She did so many things that made the situation worse, she festered on it, allowed herself to become obsessed by it, she made it personal by applying it to her own situation and in a way, making it all about her…but yet did nothing about it until she couldn’t keep it in anymore and spewed it out at possibly the most inappropriate time. When she was blackmailed, I don’t know why she didn’t just go to the relevant person and say something like “Look, I know your secret, I’m being told to tell or else, sort it out”. Or maybe she should’ve just told her husband in the very first place if she was so concerned about his feelings. Instead I had to read through a lot of pages of Jen swinging back and forth and agonising over what to do constantly, allowing it to affect her work. She spends a lot of time waxing lyrical about how she can’t look people in the eye and trying to get out of events and picking fights. It becomes a bit tiresome to be honest, because it makes this book feel about 100 pages longer than it should be.
However what rescued this novel for me was Jen’s decision at the end of the book. When she realises that some things she’s always seen as wonderful and desirable, are in fact, not really and that maybe what she longed for all these years, wasn’t worth actually longing for in that way. It felt to me much more realistic in terms of an ending than the other possibility that the author poses, which would’ve left me with a really sour feeling about this book. I appreciated Jen’s evolving feelings about her situation and the way she decided what she needed to do and who she wanted. It made me wonder what I would do in Jen’s situation – I like to think I’d tell my husband even if I knew it would upset him, because keeping secrets from him is not something I’d be comfortable with and even though the messenger inevitably gets shot, I’d rather get shot straight away and have the chance of them realising that anger is misplaced, than be shot for knowing and not telling and giving them a much more genuine reason to be resentful.
Skeletons is an interesting look at different family dynamics and the whole ‘grass is greener’ feeling. I had some issues with it and it did feel longer than it needed to be but overall it was certainly an interesting exploration of relationships and secrets within a marriage and what people decide to do with information relative to how it affects them.
Book #83 of 2014