When I read Laura Wilkinson’s Redemption Song earlier this year – you’ll find my review here, along with an interview – I wrote of my delight at finding another author to add to my favourites. While waiting for Laura’s next new release, Skin Deep, due in 2017, it was a delight to find that her first novel, originally called BloodMining, had been revised, renamed and reissued: The Family Line was published by Accent Press on 22 July, and is available in paperback and for kindle.
Megan is a former foreign correspondent whose life is thrown into turmoil when her son is diagnosed with a terminal illness: a degenerative disease passed down the mother’s line. In order to save him, Megan will have to unearth the truth about her origins and about a catastrophic event from the past. She must confront the strained relationship she has with her mother, make sense of the family history that has been hidden from her all her life, and embark on a journey of self-discovery that stretches halfway around the world.
Set in a much-changed Britain in the mid-twenty-first century, The Family Line is the debut novel from acclaimed writer Laura Wilkinson, now revised and proudly reissued by Accent Press.
Laura herself describes her work as “diverse”, but adds that what all her books have in common are “emotional, compelling stories, fascinating characters, and ideas that make you think a little”. This book was a very different proposition from Redemption Song, but was one of those wonderful books where I found myself reading the first few pages only to be drawn into a story that totally took me over for the couple of days I was reading. Not only that – it’s almost a week since I finished reading, and it’s still very much in my mind and daily thoughts.
The book’s structure is excellent. The first part focuses on the book’s present – a very believable and vividly described near future – and the story of Megan Evens, returning to her childhood home in North Wales as a single mother after a life of danger as a foreign correspondent. She now faces new challenges – a difficult relationship with her mother, a hidden family history that she struggles to understand, and finding that her son is suffering from a life limiting hereditary disease. The second part looks more closely at recent history, through the eyes of her mother, Elizabeth: it’s an absolutely gripping story, full of visual and emotional detail, about an appalling and horrifying chain of events that changed lives and the world itself. It helps us understand Elizabeth’s state of mind, the relationship between the two women, and some of the differences – described but not explained earlier – between this new world and our own.
The author tells a harrowing story, with some appalling images (oh my word, those rats…), with a real warning about the possibilities in our future. The way in which the world changes also forces changes in people’s behaviour – with the need for repopulation driving the most dreadful behaviours that have other life-changing and emotional consequences. The third part – where Megan travels to Romania to find a bone marrow match to save her son’s life becomes almost a thriller, but also something of a love story and a putting to rest of all the issues around identity and belonging that have gone before.
When a review turns into telling the story – as this one rather has – it never really works, does it? Especially when you’re trying hard not to tell the whole story – and I do really think it’s important to come to this book without preconceptions and expectations and see what you think of it. If I’m honest, had it not been written by Laura Wilkinson, it’s a book I might not have picked up – but I’m so very glad I did, because I found it totally enthralling. While some of its elements belong to the world of post-apocalyptic and science fiction, there are wonderfully powerful female characters at its centre, tackling moral and practical issues that most certainly do make you think, and more than just a little. The themes are immense – family bonds, the meaning of family and belonging, being a mother, mother-daughter relationships, nature and nurture, and identity itself… and that’s without even touching on some of the wider environmental issues and the consequences of human misbehaviour.
I really feel I’m really not making a very good job of this. but there’s one thing that I really do need to say. And that is that this book totally blew me away: ok, parts of it made me quite emotional and it sometimes really disturbed me, but it’s one I’d recommend without reservation to anyone who’d similarly like to step outside their area of comfort a little. Laura Wilkinson is a quite magnificent story-teller – and this really was an unforgettable read. And don’t neglect to read the very personal postscript about the inspiration behind the novel – it makes the whole experience of reading all the more moving and emotionally affecting.
My thanks to author Laura Wilkinson for providing my e-copy of this one for review.
About the author
Former journalist Laura Wilkinson grew up in North Wales and lives in Brighton. Alongside writing fiction, she works as a reader and editor for Cornerstones Literary Consultancy, and a mentor for The Writing Coach. She has published short stories in magazines and anthologies, and novels. Public Battles, Private Wars was a Welsh Books Council Book of the Month in 2014.