Alice Raikes catches a train from London to Edinburgh, to see her family. But when she arrives, before she even gets out of Edinburgh train station, she sees something so shocking that she simply gets straight onto another train back to London. Hours later, she steps out into a busy London road, is knocked over and taken to hospital in a coma. It is unclear to observers and Alice’s family as to whether she had intended to kill herself, or whether it was a genuine accident.
Alice’s mind drifts in and out of lucidity, and she remembers the events that led up to her being in hospital – specifically her recently finished relationship with a man named John.
Meanwhile, the reader is told about Alice’s family history, and secrets and lies are revealed.
I thought this was a wonderful, emotional book, and found it hard to believe that this was a debut novel. The narrative jumps between the first person (Alice) and the third person (where the history of the Raikes family is revealed). It jumps about in time, so only parts of the story are revealed at any one time, but these parts all come together gradually to form a whole picture.
I really came to care about Alice and various members of her family. They were so very well drawn, with their various strengths and flaws, and it was easy to invest in these characters.
It became fairly obvious what it was that Alice saw at the station, but I feel that this was probably the author’s intent, as there are several large clues planted throughout the book, and the secret is actually revealed with just short of 100 pages left. However, there were plenty of shocks, including one that left me open-mouthed, because I simply had not seen it coming.
The writing is eloquent, and while this isn’t a light read, it certainly didn’t feel like a slog either. I found the book hard to put down, because I really wanted to see how it all turned out. Things weren’t all neatly wrapped up at the end, but I think that this was a strength, because to have finished the story in that way would have been to lessen the impact of what went before it.