I’ve featured Alison May’s writing quite a lot here on Being Anne – I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every book she’s ever written. Heavens, you’ll even find a review of The Heights, the book she wrote recently with Janet Gover, published under the name of Juliet Bell. So I was rather excited to give her latest book a try, to share my review on day one of the blog tour – All That Was Lost is published today (6th September) by Legend Press, available in paperback and as an e-book (my thanks to the publishers for my advance reading e-copy). It’s a real departure from the author’s previous books, multi-layered, quite dark, looking at grief, loss, what is “real”… and I have to say I really loved it.
In 1967 Patience Bickersleigh is a teenager who discovers a talent for telling people what they want to hear. Fifty years later she is Patrice Leigh, a nationally celebrated medium. But cracks are forming in the carefully constructed barriers that keep her real history at bay.
Leo is the journalist hired to write Patrice’s biography. Struggling to reconcile the demands of his family, his grief for his lost son, and his need to understand his own background, Leo becomes more and more frustrated at Patrice’s refusal to open up.
Because behind closed doors, Patrice is hiding more than one secret. And it seems that now, her past is finally catching up with her.
May thrills in this English familial mystery, adding enticing plot layers as intricate and divisive as the themes she introduces.
Whether we believe or not, it’s impossible not to be fascinated by the world of psychics – and this book captures perfectly the experience of attending a “psychic show”, the audience all there for different reasons, the hope that your loved one will pass on a message, the faint possibility of communication beyond the grave. Patrice tells people what they want to hear, but not with the help of a spirit guide and a natural ability – it has rather more to do with preparation and research, coupled with a personal charisma that continues to draw in the crowds. But she’s approaching the end, beginning to lose her grip. As she talks to Leo, the ghost writer of her autobiography – who has his own reasons for taking on the task – we have the opportunity to experience her early life, growing up in the North, her passions, her ordinary life with her controlling parents, the events and people that made her who she is.
In the present we meet Louise – barely existing, struggling after the sudden loss of her son. And it’s a searing and very moving portrait of loss and the extremes of grief – a character perfectly drawn in every detail, emotions so close to the surface that you ache for her. And then there’s Leo – awkward, solitary, complex, and another enthralling character. The cast of characters in the present day is small, the unfolding drama tremendously involving as their lives intertwine, each of the three main characters fascinating to watch. There’s a nice balance between the elements of a saga, a suspense-filled mystery, maybe a little psychological thriller – and the writing is quite excellent, the story well constructed, moving with ease between past and present, the emotional content quite perfectly wrought.
This is a book that deals with grief, loss, love, hope and healing – and questions of identity, how lives are changed by others, and questions the notion of illusion and reality. I enjoyed it very much.
About the author
Alison May is the author of Sweet Nothing (2013), Midsummer Dreams (2015), Christmas Kisses (2016) and All That Was Lost (2018). She is the winner of the Elizabeth Goudge Trophy 2012 and has been shortlisted for the Love Stories Award 2015 and RoNA Awards 2016. She lives in Worcester where she works as a full-time writer and Creative Writing tutor.