Quick book picks for May

Only a few for this month, but a good bunch of fiction featuring some historical, some globe-spanning, and some very focused on the personal.

  • Less by Andrew Sean Greer – A bittersweet comic novel about a struggling writer who takes up invitations to strange events around the world in order to avoid his ex-boyfriend’s wedding.
  • House of Gold by Natasha Solomons – Europe poised on the cusp of World War One is the setting for this historical novel, about the Goldbaum family and how rebellious Greta attempts to reclaim her own life. Mixes the personal with the large scale history surprisingly well.
  • We Are Young by Cat Clarke – Another tense YA novel from Cat Clarke, this one focuses on how a car accident can bring various issues in a community to the forefront, from the perspective of the girl whose new stepbrother is the sole survivor.
  • The Pharmacist’s Wife by Rebecca Tait – A dark historical novel set in Victorian Edinburgh, where  Rebecca Palmer’s pharmacist husband tries to control her using heroin and manipulation.
  • Whistle in the Dark by Emma Healey – This novel tells the story of a girl who goes missing and then is found a few days later, unwilling to discuss what happened. Told from the perspective of her mother, it looks at depression and how a biased viewpoint can lead to assumptions.

Whistle in the Dark by Emma Healey

Whistle In The Dark is a gripping novel about family, depression, and how imagining a mystery can be so far from the truth. When Jen’s fifteen-year-old daughter goes missing in the Peak District, there’s a hunt to find her. But Lana is found after four days, claiming that she can’t remember anything and she’s fine. They go back to London, but things don’t feel right to Jen. She believes that whatever happened in those four days holds the key to what is going on with Lana and is desperate to find out the truth about her teenage daughter and why she’s now afraid of the dark.

The premise of the book is quite simple: it follows from a mother’s perspective the story of her daughter’s depression, of an attempt to help via an artistic retreat holiday, and how that turned into a horrible four days and a troubling aftermath. It starts as Lana is found, jumping backwards in time in between showing what happens once they are back in London. As it is from Jen’s perspective, the visions of the characters are very specific: her husband is often positioned as useless or unhelpful, her worries about Lana take over all over thoughts, and she finds it difficult to balance this with her job and dealing with her elder daughter Meg’s sudden announcement. This gives a suspense to the narrative as the reader must untangle what is Jen’s paranoia and what might be the truth. At the same time, her mindset also shows the times she isn’t able to help Lana, not listening at the right time or jumping to conclusions.

Healey really gets into the mind of Jen, showing how both mother and daughter cannot deal with Lana’s depression and with their relationship. The other characters feel like background to these two, in a way which actually suits Jen’s singleminded focus and inability to detach herself from the situation to see it in other ways. This is a moving novel that portrays the complexity of teenage depression and how a family might attempt to deal with it, as well as looking at how social media can impact on traumatic events and self-worth.