Something Only We Know
by Kate Long
This latest novel from Kate Long explores some important themes. At heart, it is a story of two sisters; a story of a family that has been damaged by the past but is nevertheless holding itself together. But it also explores political themes including environmental issues, consumerism and animal welfare.
We see the story through the eyes of Jen, the younger of the two sisters. Her life has been lived in the shadow of her older sister Helen, who has always been known as 'the beautiful one' casting Jen into the shade. But Helen has also been anorexic and that has also cast a shadow over the whole family.
The novel discusses issues around eating disorders and body image as both Jen and Helen try to make sense of their shared past. It is also a story about secrets. Who is telling the truth about the past and who isn't? Who can be trusted and who can't?
Although the subject matter is quite sensitive, this is not a downbeat book. Jen's job in the local newspaper offers some lighter moments and her colleagues are great, especially her monstrous boss Rosa. Jen tries really hard to be a success at work, but missing diaries, a slightly too thorough fridge clean out, and an over generous offer of publicity to friends all conspire to make her fall foul of Rosa and incur her wrath. The little snatches we are given of the features Jen writes for the paper are also very effective.
There are some really touching moments between the two sisters which lift the narrative out of the ordinary. And Kate Long's love of animals shines through with details of Helen's job caring for dogs, a pet hamster and Jen's mission to expose the ills of fox hunting.
I found this novel authentic and touching. Jen is really put through the mill emotionally. Not only does she have to cope with the demands of her relationship with her fragile sister, but she also has to deal with the fallout caused to her parents by Helen's illness. In addition, she has romantic problems to face up to. Will her boyfriend Owen ever properly commit? What is going on in Helen's relationship with her partner Ned, and what has led to her desire to delve into the past to track down her ex Joe, implicating Jen in the search.
There are all sorts of questions to be answered and mysteries to be solved and that adds to the page-turning quality of the book.
Overall this is a great read which had me gripped. Well-drawn characters, an original plot and very fine writing indeed add up to a top-notch read.
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