It’s such a pleasure today to be sharing my review of The Last Words of Madeleine Anderson by Helen Kitson, published on 7th March by Louise Walters Books, when it will be available in paperback and for kindle. If you order the paperback through Louise Walters Books’ website, your copy will be signed by the author (and dedicated if you choose), and sent with postcards and a signed poem, for the same price as you’ll pay through Amazon and postage-free in the UK.
Having so enjoyed Louise’s own books – you’ll find my review of A Life Between Us here, and The Road to California here – it’s been a real thrill to watch her new imprint begin to fly. Fallible Justice by Laura Laakso was one of my top books of 2018 (review here), and I’m really looking forward to her second, Echo Murder, to be published on 6th June (and available for pre-order). But I know how very excited Louise was about this book from Helen Kitson, and with every justification: my thanks to her for my advance reading e-copy, with renewed apologies that it’s taken me so long to write a review. Let’s take a closer look…
Once upon a time Gabrielle Price wrote and published an extraordinary novel.
But twenty years on her literary star has dimmed, her “work of genius” is all but forgotten, and no further novels have materialized. She now lives an unremarkable life: middle-aged, living alone in the sleepy village she grew up in, and working as a housekeeper for the local vicar. Her lonely existence is dominated by memories of her best friend Madeleine, who died young, in tragic and mysterious circumstances.
Gabrielle’s quiet world is turned upside down when she meets and befriends Simon – young, attractive, a would-be writer, and enthusiastic fan of the astonishing novel that Gabrielle published all those years ago. Charmed and flattered, she recklessly invites him into her home and her heart. But Simon is mysterious and manipulative, and it’s not long before he forces Gabrielle to confront the demons in her past. Gabrielle’s obsession begins to destroy her carefully cultivated life, and she comes to feel increasingly threatened by Simon’s presence. Who is he? Why did he seek her out? And what does he really want?
Do you know, I think it’s fair to say that Helen Kitson has written a pretty extraordinary novel too. The quality of the writing is exceptional – rich and vivid descriptions, stunning imagery, an erotic and disturbing edge, dialogue that’s wholly realistic but layered with nuance, excellent use of literary allusions – but this book also hooked me with its story. Gabrielle is wonderfully drawn – perhaps seeming a little older than her years, but as her story unfolds we grow to understand her and the key points in her life that have made her as she is, a shy recluse, living from day to day, a quiet life. All that changes when Simon appears, and although her acceptance of his presence might not entirely ring true – my only small criticism – what follows has the grip and drive of a psychological thriller.
In the present, the story has two significant twists – if you’re inclined to think ahead, you might just see them coming as I did, but their impact certainly isn’t lessened in any way. And you might just be wondering who Madeleine Anderson is, and the relevance of her “last words” – all will become clear as the story moves between past and present, the shockwaves begin to reverberate and we understand the legacy of the past. The characterisation is superb – Simon remains something of an enigma, chilling and manipulative, and Gabrielle constantly fascinates and holds your eye. And the story’s pace is perfect – lingering in all the appropriate places, giving space for thought, increasing in speed as the pieces begin to fall. I very much enjoyed this one – and I think others will too.
About the author
Helen Kitson lives in Worcester with her husband, two teenaged children and two rescue cats. Her first poetry collection was nominated for the Forward Best First Collection Prize. She has published three other poetry collections and her short fiction has appeared in magazines including Ambit, Feminist Review and Stand. She holds a BA (Hons) in Humanities.
Helen’s debut novel The Last Words of Madeleine Anderson will be published on 7th March 2019.
You can find Helen on Twitter, and also on Goodreads.