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Book DetailsISBN: 9781760529314
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Book Review: Life Before by Carmel Reilly - Reviewed by CloggieA (01 May 2019)
5 stars “She’d cultivated the art of forgetting so well that her past was like a piece of Swiss cheese. There were moments though. Many moments, really, if she was being honest (not remembering being quite a different thing from having no memory). Fragments, whole scenes, chunks lifted out of the fabric of what had gone before that felt like enough of a guide to the past. Some of these came to her crystal clear.”
Life Before is the first novel by prize-winning Australian author, Carmel Reilly. When the police come to Lori Stryker’s Melbourne looking for Loren Green, sister of Scott Michael Green, she wishes she could deny the relationship. It’s April 2016, and Lori has had no contact with Scott in over twenty years.
Now that brother, the one whom no one in her present life knows about, not her husband or children, not her closest friend, lies unconscious in the ICU, and visiting him brings back memories she has worked so hard to block. Having been knocked off his bike in a hit-and-run that police suspect could be targeted, Lori is asked to help discover whether this might be associated with his recent activities or concerned with the events of years ago.
Breaking the bad news about a fatal car accident to the family is a duty that Senior Sergeant Des Robinson dreads but he knows it needs his experience and sensitivity. On a rainy July night in 1993, it’s just as hard as it always has been, and Des knows the aftermath will be awful for all the families involved. But this is his town, and he needs to look after them all.
For Pam Green, 1993 is shaping up to be a great year: her eldest son, Simon about to finish Uni with a job all lined up; her golden boy, Scott in his final year of school; and her daughter Loren, now sixteen and growing into a beautiful young woman. And she and Mick are just as in love as ever. Then, one awful night, their lives turn upside down. As they try to learn to live the new normal, Pam can only draw consolation from the conviction that things must surely settle down as time passes.
Reilly splits the narrative into two time periods: nine months of 1993 and several days of April 2016; using three narrators to tell the story. The reason that Lori is estranged from her brother becomes vaguely apparent as the 1993 narrative steadily progresses. This is no action-packed page-turner: Reilly takes the time to demonstrate the devastating effect that a single terrible moment has on the lives of all involved, even remotely, and how they react to it.
All of this is wrapped in a mystery, with red herrings and surprises and mis-directions, and finally a brilliant twist that even the most astute reader is unlikely to predict as, in the final chapters, the vague becomes specific, and all is revealed.
Reilly easily evokes her settings: the Victorian country town of the nineties with the cultural divide and small-town attitudes; and present-day Melbourne, cafes and fast-paced, demanding life. Her characters are easily believable and the Green family raises the question of discipline vs freedom when raising teenagers. It is refreshing to see that in both narratives, the marriages are solid enough to withstand the stresses placed upon them. A brilliant debut novel. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by Allen & Unwin.
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