Review – Daughter by Jane Shemilt

By | August 25, 2014

How well do you really know those you love?

Jenny loves her three teenage children and her husband, Ted, a celebrated neurosurgeon. She loves the way that, as a family, they always know each other’s problems and don’t keep secrets from each other. 

But when her youngest child, fifteen-year-old Naomi, doesn’t come home after her school play and a nationwide search for her begins, secrets previously kept from Jenny are revealed. 

How well does she really know her sons, her husband? How well did she know Naomi? If Jenny is going to find her, she’ll have to first uncover the truth about the daughter she thought told her everything.

Having left behind the trenches of the First World War for a while, this now seems to have become my time for reading about missing children….but all tackled from different angles and perspectives, and very different reads.  

In Daughter, the debut novel by Jane Shemilt, the author vividly paints a picture of parents tied up by their professional lives and a family where secrets and chaos lie just below the surface, too well hidden for anyone to notice.  After Naomi’s disappearance, the secrets come to the surface one by one as the family falls apart.  I really liked the structure of this book – it’s told in two timeframes, the time of the disappearance and one year later, through the eyes of mother Jenny. She is always the focus of the story – her anguish over the event itself and the disintegration of the family that follows, her attempts to move on as the situation remains unresolved.  I found her quite difficult to like, which wasn’t a problem, and it didn’t make it any more difficult to feel her pain and desperation to grasp every opportunity to find a resolution.  

It’s a compelling and emotive read, and the writing is quite beautiful, with a poetic quality at times that makes the story all the more moving – I loved some of the images from nature, the twisted apple tree branches, leaves and seed pods, and the storm’s fury. There were a few aspects that sat less comfortably – I really didn’t know quite what to make of young Dan next door, and I didn’t feel husband Ted nor police profiler Michael were sufficiently rounded for me to be entirely convinced. The dog was an interesting one – he has more love and care lavished on him than anyone in the family, and perhaps that was the point. The mystery around Naomi’s disappearance is well handled, and although a little slow moving, the narrative holds your attention throughout with the dual time frame deftly handled to move the story forward.  The resolution, when it comes, is very moving and quite appropriate – and wholly unexpected. 

It wasn’t quite a five star read for me – although engrossing and well written, I found it just a bit unrelenting in its focus on misery and anguish, and I would have liked a little bit more light amid the dark.  I would recommend it to others though – a very different take on a story I thought was familiar, and overall a very satisfying read. 

My thanks to Penguin Books UK and netgalley for my advance reading copy.  Daughter by Jane Shemilt will be published in paperback and for Kindle on 28 August. 

Jane Shemilt is a general practitioner who completed a post graduate diploma in Creative Writing at Bristol University and went on to study for a M.A. in Creative writing at Bath Spa. She was shortlisted for the Janklow and Nesbitt award and the Lucy Cavendish fiction prize for Daughter, her first novel.  She and her husband, a Professor of Neurosurgery, have 5 children and live in Bristol, England.

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