The Day I Lost You by Fionnuala Kearney was published in paperback yesterday, 22nd September, by Harper, although it’s been available for kindle since February. To my considerable shame, it’s been on my shelves rather longer – I won an early signed trade copy on Fionnuala’s Facebook page, and I just can’t believe I’ve left it unread for so long.
I was at a book launch party last night, and at one point found myself chatting with author Katie Marsh. Katie’s book – A Life Without You – remains one of my stand-out books of this year, desperately sad but beautiful and uplifting. But, after we’d talked about how I felt about her book, she asked me what I was currently reading – and I told her, in minute detail and at great length. She’d caught me three-quarters of the way through this wonderful book, and I was living and breathing it in the way you sometimes do with a book you thoroughly love.
THE DAY I LOST YOU WAS THE DAY I DISCOVERED I NEVER REALLY KNEW YOU
When Jess’s daughter, Anna, is reported lost in an avalanche, everything changes.
Jess’s first instinct is to protect Rose, Anna’s five-year-old daughter. But then she starts to uncover Anna’s other life – unearthing a secret that alters their whole world irrevocably . . .
THE DAY I LOST YOU WAS THE DAY YOU TORE OUR FAMILY APART
I’m not a mother, but the author made me feel Jess’s pain and anguish over her missing daughter from the very first pages, and that emotional grip never lessened at any point in the book. The book is full of all those agonising moments when loss suffered moves from the more comfortable depths of the mind to the excruciatingly painful forefront – the favourite jar of honey on the supermarket shelf, the everyday items like the tatty sofa that hold such intense memories, the replayed conversations. I’m not really a fan of children in books either, but young Rose is quite perfectly drawn and won her place in my heart – and some of the exchanges between her and her grandmother gently broke it. Grief finds its voice through some of the simple things – the unseasonal Christmas tree, the t-shirt provided as a comfort blanket, and the unbearable anguish caused by changing the bed sheets.
As a portrait of grief and loss, this book is quite exceptional – but it’s very much more than that. I remember from reading the author’s first book that she has an exceptional gift for examining families and dissecting their complex relationships, and that strength shows in this book too. The mother-daughter bond is obviously minutely examined, but we also have the bond and relationship between sisters, partners, ex-husbands and ex-wives, their new partners and the whole maze of the extended family. And then there’s friendship – particularly that difficult man-woman friendship and whether it’s actually sustainable. Every single character in this book – even the ones at its edges – is real, complex and utterly believable. And every relationship is put under immense stress as the secrets that underly all families and relationships – complicated even more here by professional relationships – threaten to tear everything apart.
The writing is superb, and I loved the way the book was structured – primarily, what we hear are the points of view of Jess and friend Theo, but punctuated by Anna’s voice on her personal blog. It always helps when you immerse yourself in a book if you like the characters you’re engaged with. Jess’s voice is one you hear with your heart,and you really can’t help but hurt with her and for her: Theo’s infinitely likeable too, awkward and funny, gentle and caring. There’s one scene in the book where Jess disintegrates and he comforts her that had me weeping uncontrollably – but smiling as he tries to remove the sauce from a Chinese meal from the knees of his suit. There’s light and dark in this book – at times, it’s actually very funny, those moments of the absurd that reassure you that life goes on, and I’d hate anyone to get the impression that it’s all anguish and misery because it most certainly isn’t. It’s poignant, heart-breaking, sometimes painful to read, sometimes beautifully hopeful and uplifting – and it’s an excellent story, difficult to set aside as the secrets slowly emerge, and impossible to get out of your head long after you’ve finished. I’m going to add my voice in support of all the magnificent reviews and cries of “one of my Books of the Year” that have already appeared from other reviewers – this book was just wonderful.
About the author
Fionnuala Kearney lives in Ascot with her husband. They have two grown-up daughters (both with deliberately simple monosyllabic names). One of seven children, Fionnuala likes to write about the nuances and subtle layers of human relationships, peeling them away to see what’s really going on beneath.