|The Last Time We Spoke by Fiona Sussman|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: A novel set in New Zealand but based around a situation that could happen anywhere: a robbery goes wrong leaving victims on both sides. An interesting examination of society telling both sides of a tragic story.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 320||Date: May 2016|
|Publisher: Allison & Busby|
|External links: Author's website|
Carla Reid, husband Kevin and son Jack are having a family dinner when horror cuts in. Ben Toroa doesn't have their advantages and so he and his fellow gang members decide to take some from the Reids. However material goods aren’t all they take.
For this, her second novel, South African author Fiona Sussman moves away from the country of her birth that inspired her debut Shifting Colours in favour of New Zealand, her adopted country. Having said that, the subject isn't any less poignant and hard hitting than the discrimination she highlighted in her first novel.
It's telling that the working title for The Last Time We Spoke was Sentenced; one word that packs a punch packed with double meaning. As a result of one night both Ben and Carla are indeed sentenced, Ben within the confines of prison and Carla within the confines of a devastated life. However this isn't a goodie/baddie cut-and-dried novel. Within these pages Fiona demonstrates the complexity of a case like this and, indeed, a life like Ben's.
Whether we see Ben as a victim will depend on our own individual life view on crime and punishment. Even if the victim label is a leap too far for some, Ben is definitely trapped in a life that's limited in opportunity, funnelling him into gang friendships and, ultimately, some tragically linked events. The more we get to know Ben and his chaotic home existence the more I warmed to him. He's bright and, given a different set of circumstances, he'd make different choices; a sentiment that could fall into cliché if we aren't so absorbed in his story.
On the other hand, before that night Carla's only worry was making the family farm pay but even that was minimised by the fact that her teaching qualification would give the family the needed boost. Yet things change desperately in an instant as we watch her go through bereavement and a sort of living limbo caused by a fate worse than death for someone she loves dearly.
For me, being controversial, Carla was the less engaging of the two protagonists. Yes I felt for her and shared her shock but was distanced slightly by some of her dialogue. The chances are we would echo such lines after going through similar monstrosity but there are moments of melodrama created by its transfer to the written page.
We can put that aside as this is a book with a deeper purpose than just entertainment. Carla's story is a beacon of hope for those who have gone through similarly unimaginable trauma. This teamed with Ben's progression through the NZ penal system gives the novel a layer of authenticity, although Fiona is limited by the number of allotted pages so Carla's resolution seems a little accelerated.
I loved that among the point of view chapters she includes a viewpoint that's not often considered. Scattered through the story we hear the voice of New Zealand mourning the wasting of her indigenous people. As we read something that resonates widely in a materialistic, siloed world, we can see why it's a cry that would be picked up and repeated by many nations for their many children.
Thank you to Allison & Busby for providing us with a copy for review.
Further Reading: We heartily recommend Fiona's Shifting Colours. If you would like to read more about the first nation New Zealanders, we also suggest the interestingly titled Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All by Christina Thompson.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Last Time We Spoke by Fiona Sussman at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Last Time We Spoke by Fiona Sussman at Amazon.com.
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