Me and My Shadow by Deborah Stone

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Me and My Shadow by Deborah Stone

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A woman talks to her psychiatrist about her tumultuous life, her complicated, dysfunctional family, and above all, her resentment of her sister. Cleverly plotted and elegantly told, this is a novel with a sting in its tail.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 290 Date: December 2021
Publisher: Independent
ISBN: 978-8781372775

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What happens when someone is pushed too far and they begin to lose their grip on reality? How would you cope if you felt that no one loved you? And how far would you go to be happy? Accompany Rachel as she tries to shake off the shadows of her past and attempts to repair decades worth of pain.

Rachel is in a current conversation with her psychiatrist, who pushes her to recall her life from very young childhood onwards. But Rachel is combative with Doctor Blake, sometimes even contemptuous of her. You can see that it's not an easy therapeutic relationship. Rachel's recall of her life is in remarkable detail. She remembers each minor slight and each major betrayal in perfect detail with absolute and unforgiving clarity.

The main focus is her family - primarily her mother's favouritism towards Rachel's younger sister, Catherine, who was born premature and needed all the attention as a baby, and her sister's malicious manipulation of that favouritism. The slights are frequent and Rachel's resentment plain. But as the story goes on, we also see how every relationship outside the family that Rachel tries to make is poisoned, either directly or indirectly, by this unhappy family dynamic and indeed sometimes deliberately by Catherine herself. There's partner abuse, infidelity, drug abuse, unemployment. Rachel's life has never been easy.

It's clear from the narrative that Rachel is probably not a voluntary patient of Doctor Blake's. But why that is or how it happened, we don't know. Rachel is an unreliable narrator so we can't be sure at what point her story lurches from an accurate autobiography into the state of mind that has prompted her current situation. We do know it's unlikely to be good. And you can't help but pity her as she tries to pick up the pieces of her life over and over again, only to see them dashed every time.

I enjoyed this cleverly written novel, although its events are really rather depressing. There's a twist in the tale, of course, and Stone does a good job of not signalling it too heavily and an equally good job of maintaining tension and curiosity. The novel is neatly written, not shying away from horrible events but not revelling in them either. The characters are three-dimensional - Rachel herself isn't an entirely sympathetic victim of circumstance and the antagonist, Catherine, one suspects, might have a redeeming quality or two, if only one could see past Rachel to find them.

If you enjoy stories that examine how and why families can go terribly wrong with terrible consequences, you'll like Me and My Shadow.

You might also enjoy What's Left Unsaid, Stone's first novel, an absorbing story of family secrets, the breakdown of a marriage, and a parent with dementia.

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