Sunday, 16 April 2017

All Is Not Forgotten - Wendy Walker; Review


Book Details:
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: HQ (23rd Feb 2017)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0008203482
ISBN-13: 978-0008203481


In the small, affluent town of Fairview, Connecticut everything seems picture perfect.

Until one night when young Jenny Kramer is attacked at a local party. In the hours immediately after, she is given a controversial drug to medically erase her memory of the violent assault. But, in the weeks and months that follow, as she heals from her physical wounds, and with no factual recall of the attack, Jenny struggles with her raging emotional memory. Her father, Tom, becomes obsessed with his inability to find her attacker and seek justice while her mother, Charlotte, prefers to pretend this horrific event did not touch her perfect country club world.

As they seek help for their daughter, the fault lines within their marriage and their close-knit community emerge from the shadows where they have been hidden for years, and the relentless quest to find the monster who invaded their town - or perhaps lives among them - drive this psychological thriller to a shocking and unexpected conclusion. 

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Warning - spoilers up ahead. 

As you can probably tell from my previous reviews, that I’m no stranger to reading books on issues like rape and sexual consent - and I say this because this last year or so I’ve been reading these books, books that are hard to digest, to see what the representation of such issues are in fiction and mainly YA. Reviews for books like What We Saw, What Happens Next, Exit, Pursued By A Bear, and The Butterfly Garden can all be found on my blog. 

Of all those books though, this, All Is Not Forgotten - was the hardest one to read for me. This story is about the sexual assault of a 15 year old girl, and how her parents take the decision to administer her a drug that allows, within certain conditions, to erase that memory of that horrific night. The hardest thing, which often led me to putting the book down and taking a step away from it - was the sheer graphic detail in which the assault was described. Trigger warnings, and to those who are sensitive, please don’t read on. I talk about this in terms of a review and to get my feelings out, and not in any way to recite what happens to cause anyone any distress. 

Our main character Jenny, stumbled into the woods after something that happened at a party. Here, is when our story starts, a very bold and shocking opening, to start with the assault itself. It goes on to detail that she was raped repeatedly for almost over an hour - in different ways, each way leading to tearing, bleeding. Then, she was carved on her lower hip, and left on the forrest floor until she was discovered. This scene, as horrific and scarring as it is, is unfortunately repeated throughout the whole story, whether in a police report, or through her parents discussing what happened, or Jenny’s psychiatrist talking about the assault. To me personally, it was not necessary to continuously, in such detail, relive that moment over and over again in the book. Reading it once was hard enough, but to read it over and over again was just one too many times without any relative cause or need for it. I had a few issues with this book, but this is my strongest one - the level of detail about he assault and the numerous mentions of it, just should have been left out and the book itself should come with some kind of forewarning about what is coming up.

The writing itself both annoyed me, but also kept me hooked. When you start reading, you’ll wonder who the narrator is because at first it’s not clear. I kept asking my colleagues who it was, whether it was a subconscious part of Jenny’s brain, or an alter-ego of her Dad’s more violent side, or, in the end, I settled on whether or not it was the voice of her psychiatrist - which is where I hit bingo. I mentioned in another review of mine, for The Butterfly Garden, that I hugely enjoy narrators who are somewhat unreliable and can’t be trusted - but in this case, the vague-ness of the character really put me off. It’s because he came across as being egotistical, overly self assured in his abilities and character - but more than that, he was condescending. Thinking himself above others simply because of the nature of his job and what that allows him access to. 

*Warning, this may just be me going off in a tangent and mini rage but.. yeah*
Throw in the fact that his ethics and moral compassion are thrown off track when his son falls into the equation, I found him lacking the empathy and compassion he claimed he was adept at, and instead he was selfish and evil in his pursuit to plant what he KNEW was false evidence simply to shift attention from his son. He compromised the innocence and belief of a 15 year old girl who was so brutally raped and placed her trust in you to help her bring back those memories - and the moment he had the slightest inkling that his son could be involved in a small way, he threw her to the wolves and actually manipulated Jenny’s and Sean’s vulnerable state and trust, to lead them away from his son. I felt disgusted at his behaviour and the rationale behind it - surely as a psychiatrist you are actually trained to be impartial no? 

*back to coherent reviewing* 
For that reason I think, the narrative style also kept me hooked - it’s messy, it’s disgusting, morally questionable - but that also led me to believe that it was honest and very raw. While one half of my brain was all rage against the psychiatrist, the other half totally got him - of course he would pick his son and his safety over everything else, it’s natural instinct, regardless of whether he’s guilty or not - which at that point hadn’t been determined in the story. The narrator was also very self aware of his shortcomings and pitfalls in character - which I can appreciate. But the downside to this was, it became more his story than the unravelling of Jenny’s. 

The complex relationships and bonds interweaved throughout; Sean’s, Jenny’s mother, Jenny’s Dad. But I felt what was lacking was the depth into Jenny herself and weirdly enough, the perpetrator. The final chapter where we actually find out who it was, so was anti climatic. We spend the ENTIRETY of this book, delving into Jenny’s memories, the events of that night, to find out who actually did it - only to have the revelation over and done with, within a mere few pages. Not asking for a long drawn out justice-scene or anything - but it would have been good to have planted more substantial clues throughout the book at least so that the ending didn’t feel so short-lived. As for Jenny - as often is the case in reality, the true victim of a rape crime lives in the shadows - in this story, we didn’t get enough depth, enough book-time on Jenny herself, on her feelings, her struggles - except through the eyes of the narrator who, lets face it, wasn’t in the best of positions to be doling out observations. 

The other characters we see in this book are fleshed out pretty well - almost too well? Sean struck me as an oddity for a number of reasons. I get his role in the book and in the story the narrator tells, as Sean was a previous patient of his who comes to befriend Jenny. But I just found it messed with this book slightly, in the sense that there is a lot of Sean’s story and suffering and he deserved his own book in a way - rather than being a background character to this one. It would have worked better to not give such depth to his character only to have him not be the main one - the same desired effect from Sean being in the story could have been achieved with minimal information about who he is. The same, for instance, can be said about all the other characters. Jenny’s Mum and Dad - the psychiatrist gets them to open up about their past, their present and all their issues - which again for me, distracts from the main story because there’s just too much going on with these other characters and what their bringing to the table. 

The narrator *it seems my gripe with this guy is never ending* also goes off on so many tangens when trying to tell a story. He’ll be trying to tell us about the time Jenny tried to kill herself, but oh, let’s just rewind back to few weeks ago when my wife said something about something *okay probably a really bad example since the above didn’t happen* but I’m sure you’ll get the gist of what I mean. To say this guy infuriated me would be an understatement - but like I said before, there’s a pull, having such a character that draws the darkness out of you and has you swearing at the pages, is a smart one, if not a horrible one. 

The writing itself was gripping and I seriously couldn’t put the book down. It was the just-one-more-chapter-before-bed syndrome until you realise it’s past 1am and you REALLY need to get to sleep for work. The pace was slow, to ensure there was substantial buildup, but weirdly, the book still felt fast? Months elapse in the book, from the moment it happened to Jenny getting through therapy, yet it felt so quick to me - maybe because in an effort to find out who did it, I was reading this a breakneck speed. I will say, you will not be bored with this book. All, really Is Not Forgotten *just had to throw a pun in there at some point, you know me*. 

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