All The Books I Can Read

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Review: The Hidden Hours by Sara Foster

on April 27, 2017

The Hidden Hours
Sara Foster
Simon & Schuster AUS
2017, 367p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Keeping her secret may save her family.

But telling it may save her life.

Arabella Lane, senior executive at a children’s publisher, is found dead in the Thames on a frosty winter’s morning after the office Christmas party. No one is sure whether she jumped or was pushed. The one person who may know the truth is the newest employee at Parker & Lane – the office temp, Eleanor.

Eleanor has travelled to London to escape the repercussions of her traumatic childhood in outback Australia, but now tragedy seems to follow her wherever she goes. To her horror, she has no memory of the crucial hours leading up to Arabella’s death – memory that will either incriminate or absolve her.

As Eleanor desperately tries to remember her missing hours and uncover the events of that fateful night, her own extended family is dragged further into the dark, terrifying terrain of blame, suspicion and guilt.

Caught in a crossfire of accusations, Eleanor fears she can’t even trust herself, let alone the people around her. And soon, she’ll find herself in a race against time to find out just what happened that night – and discover just how deadly some secrets can be.

This is Sara Foster’s fifth novel and it immediately sounded intriguing. A death in a publishing house – so much potential!

The narrator Eleanor is young, early twenties and in London for the first time. Although her mother was English Eleanor was born and raised in Australia, including for some time on a relatively remote property while her father was building them a house. Pretty much immediately the reader is privy to the fact that there was some sort of traumatic event in Eleanor’s past, something that haunts her still and it’s for that reason that she’s in London, attempting to get her life back on an even keel. She’s staying with her mother’s brother Ian, a work-from-home architect whose formidable wife Susan is someone high up at the publisher where Eleanor has scored a job as an assistant. Eleanor attends the Christmas party hoping to get to know some of her colleagues and she wakes hungover and disoriented the day after, uncomfortably aware that she has some significant gaps in her memory of the night before. One thing she does remember though, was socialising with Arabella, the woman who was found in the Thames the next morning.

What follows is a convoluted attempt by Eleanor to retrieve her memories and make sure that it wasn’t her that killed Arabella, be it accidentally or otherwise and figure out who did, before she potentially becomes their next victim with what she can piece together. She seems to make a rather convenient scapegoat and as she stumbles around lurching from one disaster and troubled moment to the next, it’s honestly not hard to see why someone might want to use her that way. Eleanor is pretty much a mess. She’s intimidated by almost everyone. She has something quite important and she basically tells everyone she knows that she has it, even though it’s incredibly incriminating. She trusts people she shouldn’t for the weirdest of reasons and she deliberately puts herself in dangerous situations in misguided attempts to discover information like she’s a private detective.

As well as the current day story revolving around Arabella’s death and Eleanor’s missing memory, the book also contains flashbacks to Eleanor’s childhood and her father moving them into a shed on a piece of land while he builds their house. I wasn’t sure of the exact timeframe but it seems to be a task that seemingly takes much longer than anyone anticipated. Eleanor’s relationship with her parents, with her brother and her brother’s relationship with their parents is absolutely masterfully portrayed and this for me, was the highlight of the book. Particularly the orchestration of the family’s interactions with their elderly closest neighbour. I really felt a lot of dread about the way that things were playing out, because you knew from the beginning of the book that something really tragic occurs but it’s left unclear as to who it was and I sifted through several options. This part of the narrative was very strong with deliberate confusion and a real feeling of dread stitched into the story as it approached the climactic tragic event. I applauded the subterfuge, which felt refreshing.

It was for me, far stronger than the modern day portion of the story which at times, failed to hold my interest. Arabella disintegrated into a bit of a cliche and by the end I barely even cared who had killed her and how/why it happened. Eleanor was a scatty, disoriented character that was hard to really identify with or place much faith in because she was so vague and frightened of her own shadow. I understand that what happened to her was frightening but it was concerning that she even allowed herself to be in this position. It seemed she was so glad for Arabella to notice her and talk to her that she would’ve gone along with anything and it could’ve had some really awful consequences for Eleanor as well as Arabella.

Loved the story set in the past, didn’t really love the one in the present day. Idea was good, just a few things in the execution let it down a bit for me. There seemed a lack of real suspense and urgency at the conclusion of the present day story as well, which made it feel a bit lacklustre. I wasn’t surprised at the conclusion, nor did I feel as though it had much of an impact.


Book #76 of 2017

The Hidden Hours is book #25 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017


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