A pleasure today to be joining the blog tour and sharing my review of For When I’m Gone, the debut novel from Rebecca Ley: published on 3rd September by Orion, it’s now available as an e-book, in hardcover, and as an audiobook, with the paperback to follow in March 2021. My thanks to Tracy Fenton at Compulsive Readers for the invitation and support, and to the publishers for my advance reading copy (provided via netgalley).
Because there’s never enough time to say goodbye…
Sylvia knows that she’s running out of time. Very soon, she will exist only in the memories of those who loved her most and the pieces of her life she’s left behind.
So she begins to write her husband a handbook for when she’s gone, somewhere to capture the small moments of ordinary, precious happiness in their married lives. From raising their wild, loving son, to what to give their gentle daughter on her eighteenth birthday – it’s everything she should have told him before it was too late.
But Sylvia also has a secret, one that she’s saved until the very last pages. And it’s a moment in her past that could change everything…
This book was one of so many where its publication was delayed by the pandemic, and that really must have been such a frustrating experience – especially for a debut novelist. But now it’s available, the early reviews are stunning – and well deserved. It’s a novel with exceptional emotional authenticity, and packs a really powerful punch – it’s also immensely readable while confronting some really serious issues.
The book’s construction is very clever indeed, with Sylvia’s clear voice through the pages of her “manual” interspersed with “Then” – which takes the reader back to Sylvia’s childhood and through all the ups and downs of her relationship with husband Paul – and “Now” where we follow Paul through his grief and beyond following her death. I loved the manual itself – not just a set of instructions for the children’s upbringing and where to find all those important little things he’s going to need, but also a powerful love letter, and an opportunity to share a deeply-hidden secret. As a portrait of grief and loss and attempts to move forward, the “Now” was so well written, very real and particularly moving.
I’d love to say I thoroughly enjoyed the whole book – but I have to reluctantly admit that it wasn’t entirely the book for me, although that wouldn’t prevent me from recommending it wholeheartedly to others or giving it plenty of stars in all those important places. I’m a little older than the average reader, and found it really difficult to identify with Sylvia’s experiences: I don’t have children, and there was a heavy focus on the dynamics of the family and the whole experience of motherhood that made it all a less than comfortable read for me. I’ll also whisper that I really didn’t like Sylvia very much – I suspect she might be an acquired taste for many – although it didn’t stop me feeling deeply for her at so many points in her narrative.
The supporting characters are excellent – Paul’s “conventional” mother and Sylvia’s mother Barbara (who’s many miles away from conventional) added an extra dimension to the focus on motherhood, there’s the complex relationship with sister Tess, Sylvia’s friendship with Nush, and the interesting introduction of housekeeper Natalia (and her motivation for stepping in as she does). The children too were beautifully drawn: Megan, withdrawing into the background a little, breaks your heart – Jude is a bigger challenge, and wonderfully complex.
I’ve spotted comparisons with the writing of Maggie O’Farrell – that must be a dream fulfilled for any new author, and I don’t think I’d particularly disagree. Give it a try – see what you think…
About the author
Rebecca Ley is a journalist who wrote a column for The Guardian, Doing it for Dad, about her father’s dementia. She has previously worked at the Times, The Sun and The Daily Mail. “For When I’m Gone” is her debut novel.