The Things We Never Said is Susan Elliot Wright’s debut novel. She’s since written two more, The Secrets We Left Behind and What She Lost, which will be published in January 2017.
I selected The Things We Never Said because I was attending one of Susan’s writing classes. She runs various groups in the community. As my class was a writing a novel course, I thought I would read Susan’s novel before I signed up.
If you’re working with a tutor, I think it’s important to read their work, not so much to judge it, but to see if you enjoy it and make sure you can learn from them.
I wasn’t disappointed with this novel. It is a very assured first novel. It has pace and an engaging story. It also really helped me out of a reading slump, after a very slow start to my reading in 2016.
The novel has two narrative strands. The first is in 1964 and Maggie wakes to find herself in a psychiatric ward, not knowing who she is or why she has been committed. She slowly begins to have memories of a storm and of a man called Jack, and slowly the pieces of the past begin to come together. In 2008 Jonathan is struggling to put his differences with his parents aside to tell them he and his wife are expecting a baby, when a detective arrives to question him about crimes committed long ago.
The two stories are interwoven, and the secrets of the past start to come to light. As usually happens with dual narratives, I preferred one over the other. I loved the 1964 story much more than the 2008 story, even though the two are connected. I really felt for the character of Maggie, less so for Jonathan. I think this is more to do with my own reading history and preferences than the way the novel is written. There is something particularly horrifying about the treatment of psychiatric patients, whereas I wasn’t as engaged with a male teacher in 2008. That might also be down to the fact that I’m a teacher, so perhaps it was teacher overload!
The novel is very well written and expertly structured. The writer maintains interest, moving the plot forward with conflict, so you keep reading. I whizzed through this book.
The only downside is the character of Fiona, Jonathan’s wife, who I found really irritating, although it could just be me. As the novel progresses, she does develop as a character, but not enough for me to really engage with her.
Overall, I really enjoyed The Things We Never Said and would definitely recommend it. I’ve passed it on to my Mum, so that’s a good sign. I will also be adding Susan Elliot Wright’s other novels to my reading pile. After reading the book I did also sign up to Susan’s class. She writes very well, and I definitely felt I could learn from her, especially on structure, planning and plotting.