East Yorkshire: Single mum Alice Lake finds a man on the beach outside her house. He has no name, no jacket, no idea what he is doing there. Against her better judgement she invites him in to her home.
Surrey: Twenty-one-year-old Lily Monrose has only been married for three weeks. When her new husband fails to come home from work one night she is left stranded in a new country where she knows no one. Then the police tell her that her husband never existed.
Two women, twenty years of secrets and a man who can’t remember…
I’ve now lost count of the number of times I’ve said that Lisa Jewell’s books just get better and better. She’s one of a very small group of authors whose books I covet from the moment I hear their titles, and has a guaranteed place at the top of my reading queue. I haven’t always been such a massive fan. I only discovered her with The Making Of Us, then came Before I Met You, The House We Grew Up In, and my next favourite, The Third Wife. But then along came The Girls – and I had a new favourite. You’ll find reviews of the last few here on Being Anne.
Her latest, I Found You, was published by Century on 14th July in hardcover and for kindle. At first sight, it looked as if it could be quite a simple and straightforward story. A new husband disappears on his way home from work – a man turns up on a Yorkshire beach and has lost his memory. Just a matter of bringing together two storylines and that’s it, maybe? Oh no, we haven’t even started. There’s a third storyline, at first apparently unconnected – a family with two teenage children, holidaying at the same Yorkshire seaside town in 1993. And slowly but surely, the different threads start to unwind and we have a complex and totally enthralling story.
The author draws wonderful characters, and the two women at the centre of the present day story are no exception. I loved Annie – who finds the man on the beach, agrees to rename him “Frank” (her small daughter’s rather unexpected but totally suitable choice) and takes him into her home and into her heart. She’s impulsive, trusting, a little off-the-wall at times, manipulated by others, acts first and regrets it later – and she’s happy to accept that Frank must be a good man when one of her dogs, who trusts no-one, rests their head on his knee. (She has a bit of a history of choosing friends and men in a rather similar arbitrary way.) Her sadness at the possibility that she will lose “Frank” when his memory returns will break your heart.
Lily – the abandoned new wife – is exceptionally well drawn too. You can feel her desperation at being left alone in a foreign country, smile at her problems with communication, feel her delight at finding someone to help her (however ill-fitted for the role).
The 1993 story illuminates the story in the present day – and that earlier story is a really unexpected, but riveting, one of obsession, violence and betrayal.
The dexterity with which the author handles the threads takes your breath away. The background story proceeds at breakneck pace, while the present day story unfolds a great deal more slowly: the plotting and timing is incredibly complex with little details slowly and tantalisingly revealed. At one point, I thought I knew where it was all heading, but I was totally wrong. It’s absolutely gripping – the very best of psychological thrillers to keep you on the edge of your seat – but at the same time it’s by turns a mystery, a coming-of-age tale, a piece of social commentary, a love story and a piece of superbly written contemporary women’s fiction. The characters have remarkable depth, drive the story, and touch you to the core. And as for the ending – it’s simply perfect.
You know that list of “my favourite books by Lisa Jewell”? I think I’m just going to have to revisit it again…
My thanks to netgalley and publishers Century (Random House UK, Cornerstone) for my advance reading e-copy.
Lisa Jewell was born in London in 1968. Her mother was a secretary and her father was a textile agent and she was brought up in the northernmost reaches of London with her two younger sisters. She was educated at a Catholic girls’ Grammar school in Finchley. After leaving school at sixteen she spent two years at Barnet College doing an arts foundation course and then two years at Epsom School of Art & Design studying Fashion Illustration and Communication.
She worked for the fashion chain Warehouse for three years as a PR assistant and then for Thomas Pink, the Jermyn Street shirt company for four years as a receptionist and PA. She started her first novel, Ralph’s Party, for a bet in 1996. She finished it in 1997 and it was published by Penguin books in May 1998. It went on to become the best-selling debut novel of that year. I Found You is her fourteenth novel.
She now lives in an innermost part of north London with her husband Jascha, an IT consultant, her daughters, Amelie and Evie and her silver tabbies, Jack and Milly.
Follow Lisa Jewell through her official Facebook page, following her on Twitter or visit her website.