With her third novel, In Her Wake, Amanda Jennings examines issues of identity and trust, scraping away the veneer of middle class respectability to expose a shocking reality that nevertheless holds the promise of redemption.
It unsettles from the first. Bella may have a loving husband and a comfortable life, but the sense of foreboding in the opening pages isn't fully explained by a recent family bereavement. Bella is strangely passive, her husband David controlling and her father Henry distant. Her whole upbringing involved hiding away behind the walls of her parents' gracious home with only an imaginary friend for company; her family so intent on avoiding strangers, she's never even travelled abroad.
When a further tragedy rips her world apart, Bella discovers her entire existence has been based on a lie. Leaving David behind, she sets out on a journey to the southern tip of Cornwall to uncover truths about herself that question the very basis of her being.
In picturesque St Ives comes a steady stream of revelations; not all of them is savoury on the surface. But, in uncovering the secrets of her past and finding out who she really is, there's also a welcome sense of Bella sloughing off the layers of other people's control and finally inhabiting her own skin. She may make her mistakes, but in her new life, they're all her own.
Writing intimately in the first person, with the occasional foray into
Henry's diaries to broaden our understanding, Jennings exposes the turmoil in Bella's head and peels back layers - not just of people but also of place. Away from the tourist
centre of St Ives, she reveals its darker underbelly; the deprivation and lack of
opportunity that exist behind the
stunning sweep of beaches, galleries and seafront cafes. Yet, in this hinterland emerges a deeply entrenched feeling of real community.
The twists and turns of this complex web of domestic noir will have you in its thrall - from Bella's burgeoning new life and her reawakening memories to the haunting nightmares of her past. There are sins of omission as well as commission, but even those guilty of the darkest of deeds have their reasons.
In Her Wake is a novel of much more than simple plot shock; shaded with warm, but often painful relationships by day and disturbing magical realism by night. Jennings entwines the grief of Bella's past and her tentative new beginning with such empathy that, by the end of this very absorbing and atmospheric story, I'm sure I'm not alone in crying and cheering with her every step of the way.
In Her Wake by Amanda Jennings is published in the UK by Orenda Books, many thanks to Karen at Orenda for my review copy.