Please Don't Leave Me Here by Tania Chandler
|Please Don't Leave Me Here by Tania Chandler|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Liz Green|
|Summary: Well-executed psychological novel featuring an unreliable and amnesiac narrator who is trying recover memories of her violent and damaged past.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 304||Date: September 2015|
|Publisher: Scribe Publications|
If you like unreliable narrators then this is the book for you. In Brigitte, the protagonist of Please Don't Leave Me Here, Tania Chandler has created an unforgettable troubled character whose fractured mental state leads to erratic thought processes, vivid and none too pleasant dreams and an inability, or unwillingness, to recover her memory of her former life. None of which is helped by her drink problem and, as the story progresses, an addiction to prescription medication.
The book is written in two time frames – the first half of the book deals with the present, Brigitte as a seemingly middle-class homemaker in the Melbourne suburbs who writes an occasional column for a parenting magazine. Flashbacks and fragments of conversations hint at a rather different earlier life. Brigitte knows she was in a car crash, but has no memory of the events leading up to the crash. Gradually, she uncovers details. There was a murder in which she was somehow involved. The investigating officer was Sam, whom she later married. Evidence was lost. The case was eventually closed, unsolved. And now, several years later, the case is being reopened by Aidan, Sam's colleague, who holds a magnetic attraction for Brigitte. As events unfold, Brigitte descends into an increasingly manic state until she finds she trusts nobody yet still hasn't remembered the truth. And just when things can't get any bleaker for her, the time frame shifts to her earlier life.
And so to the second part of the book. The younger Brigitte and her behaviour and circumstances are, on the face of it, a far cry from the woman she later becomes. Her life is a depressing round of violence at the hands of Eric, her sleazy boyfriend-protector, alcohol abuse and her job as an exotic dancer. The hopelessness of her situation is conveyed perfectly. Brigitte wants to get away from Eric, but she doesn't believe she deserves any better. And when she finally does meet a new man, and things begin to change for her, events hurtle towards an inevitably catastrophic conclusion.
And then we're back in the present, and a resolution, of sorts.
The book is cleverly structured. Its two distinct time frames allow the author to place abundant tantalising clues in the present-day narrative, for readers to piece together what happened in the past. But it'd take a very perceptive reader indeed to grasp some of the more tenuous hints. For example, Brigitte has a lot of bizarre dreams, many of which involve Kurt Cobain. Now I'm not a big fan of dream sequences in fiction and this book was no exception. I tended to skip through them quite quickly. It wasn't until the end of the book, when I looked back at various sections, that I realised the dream sequences did have a meaning. I'm not sure that they add a lot, though. After all, what's the point of passages that you don't understand until you've finished the book?
I wonder whether this book would have worked as effectively with a linear narrative, if it had been written in chronological order. There certainly wouldn't have been the same sense of mystery, no clues to tickle your imagination. But Tania Chandler's skill at depicting a damaged mind, combined with a vivid eye for detail and a superb writing style, make this book so much more than a who-what- when-where-and-how puzzle. The story is robust enough not to need any writerly gimmicks. I can't help feeling that I would have got more out of the book had I understood the dream sequences, the fleeting memories, the snatched conversations, upon first reading although the plot, once understood, did work, albeit with a few irritating loose ends. What was Sam's motivation? Exactly how much did Brigitte's brother Ryan and his awful wife know? What was the reason for Sean the caretaker's terrible act? Why didn't Matt search for Brigitte?
I have one other gripe with this book, and it will matter more to some readers than to others. Few of the characters are particularly likeable, and Brigitte in particular. She makes car-crash choices throughout the book and, by the end, when it seems that she still hasn't managed to learn anything from her past experiences, I found myself more than a little irritated with her. It's a very good book, nevertheless. It raises social issues such as alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic violence and prostitution, without judgement and without being over-zealous. The writing is excellent, the story hangs together well, and I'm looking forward to her next book already.
For another novel with an amnesiac heroine, read (or re-read) Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson. Or for something completely different, but with an unforgettably unreliable narrator, try Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.
You can read more book reviews or buy Please Don't Leave Me Here by Tania Chandler at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Please Don't Leave Me Here by Tania Chandler at Amazon.com.
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