Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Review : What My Body Remembers by Agnete Friis

What My Body Remembers

Published by : Soho Press, Inc. 
17 May 2017
Copy : Paperback - Received from publisher

The Blurb

Ella Nygaard, 27, has been a ward of the state since she was seven years old, the night her father murdered her mother. She doesn't remember anything about that night or her childhood before it but her body remembers. The PTSD-induced panic attacks she now suffers incapacitate her for hours sometimes days at a time and leave her physically and mentally drained.

After one particularly bad episode lands Ella in a psych ward, she discovers her son, Alex, has been taken from her by the state and placed with a foster family. Driven by desperation, Ella kidnaps Alex and flees to the seaside town in northern Denmark where she was born. Her grandmothers abandoned house is in grave disrepair, but she can live there for free until she can figure out how to convince social services that despite everything, she is the best parent for her child.

But being back in the small town forces Ella to confront the demons of her childhood the monsters her memory has tried so hard to obscure. What really happened that night her mother died? Was her grandmother right was Ella's father unjustly convicted? What other secrets were her parents hiding from each other? If Ella can start to remember, maybe her scars will begin to heal or maybe the truth will put her in even greater danger.  

The Very Pink Notebook Review

The opening to this book was a little different to what I was expecting.  Usually you are given an explosive event or shocking revelation, but this opens with a very simple and frank conversation between two neighbours.  Two females.  It is muted, matter of fact and so completely puts you straight into the tone of the book it is very clever.

So, what is the tone of the book?  Well, to be honest, it is pretty bleak.  Written in first person narrative by protagonist Ella, the reader quickly ascertains that Ella and her son Alex live a pretty poor life, both financially and in quality.  Both Ella and Alex suffer from mental health issues, something Ella fights the state about with vengeance.  Ella's general outlook on life and other people is negative, she trusts in very little, but that is hardly surprising given the traumatic and fragmented up bringing she has endured.  When she moves back to where she grew up, she meets people from her past who seem to know more about her than she does; Thomas, her old school friend who obviously hasn't lost the flame he held for her, Baek-Nielson her grandmothers friend, Barbara who swears she will help her no matter how much she protests.  The author presents them well, I was not sure who could be trusted...

Throughout we are taken on Ella's, reluctant, journey of discovery about what really happened in her childhood, particularly the night her mother died.  What I liked was there was no sudden changes in Ella's attitude, she didn't suddenly become an optimistic fighter, or into money.  She is forced to deal with her own past so that it doesn't affect her son's future, but even so, she does it all seriously dragging her feet and with limited means.

In between the current day scenes with Ella, we are taken back to 1994, the year her father allegedly killed her mother.  Told from the viewpoint of both her father, Helgi, and mother, Anna, the reader learns the couple both had secrets and issues over the course of that year.  Using the three viewpoints the plot comes together well and at a steady pace.  Although I did put two and two together, it did not spoil the book for me and I enjoyed the way the author weaved and pulled all the ends together. 

I loved the characters, they were very real and most importantly relevant to the plot.  At first, I did wonder whether some of the language used was a little too much, but actually considering it now, as I review the novel in it's entirety, no it wasn't.  The book is set to the theme of hardship and with that comes gritty realities that sometimes only profanity can truly help describe.  Although some of the characters and language may seem harsh, the overall emotion I got from them was actually compassion, I particularly thought this of Rosa.

What My Body Remembers, for me, was a different kettle of fish to what I was expecting.  It is written through emotion rather than action.  It's themes ran strong and true from beginning right to end and the characters are really well developed and interesting.

What My Body Remembers receives a Very Pink Notebook Rating of :


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