Thursday, August 22, 2019
Book Review: 'What's Left Unsaid' by Deborah Stone
‘Just because you cannot say I love you does not mean that you do not love.’
British author Deborah Stone offers no biographical information from which we may understand the depth of her artistry. WHAT’S LEFT UNSAID is simply one of the most impressive novels about family and secrets and relationships and, yes, personal histories we all share that has surfaced this year. Her prose is eloquent, her manner of delivery of a multicharacter story in conversational pages for individual characters is a very sensitive technique for creating a drama as though we the readers are personally attuned to the varying stances of each character.
The provided synopsis shares the plot well – ‘Sasha is just about managing to hold her life together. She is raising her teenage son Zac, coping with an absent husband and caring for her ageing, temperamental and alcoholic mother, as well as holding down her own job. But when Zac begins to suspect that he has a secret sibling, Sasha realises that she must relive the events of a devastating night which she has done her best to forget for the past nineteen years. Sasha’s mother, Annie, is old and finds it difficult to distinguish between past and present and between truth and lies. As Annie sinks deeper back into her past, she revisits the key events in her life which have shaped her emotionally. Through it all, she remains convinced that her dead husband Joe is watching and waiting for her. But there’s one thing she never told him, and as painful as it is for her to admit the truth, Annie is determined to go to Joe with a guilt-free conscience. As the plot unfurls, traumas are revealed and lies uncovered, revealing long-buried secrets which are at the root of Annie and Sasha’s fractious relationship.’
Yet it is most important to view a sample of a character page to appreciated the style of this drama. Deborah opens with ‘Joe’ – the father of Sasha and husband of Annie – ‘If Annie had just been honest with me, we might have avoided much of the ugliness which followed…but she wasn’t and we didn’t. I sometimes wonder if I should blame myself. After all, throughout my life, I prided myself on being a great reader of souls. Yet it appears that I missed all the signs. Or did I simply choose the path of least resistance? I have so much time on my hands now to contemplate my possible past motivations; a task which I recognise is ultimately futile. The truth is that I accepted what the fates threw at me. Annie and I created a set of armour plating to hide behind as we forged through our lives, colliding with others in our path, damaging them.’ Then we meet Sasha – ‘I heard a strange scratching sound as I reached the top of the stairs leading to my attic office. I glanced around before taking another step, but I could see nothing in the hallway. I edged towards the door, floorboards creaking underneath my feet, my heart picking up speed. Walking slowly towards my desk, I saw one of my files lying open, weighted down with a pair of scissors. I picked them up and glancing around, I crept over to the window and rattled it. It was tightly shut. ‘Boo!’ I jumped, dropping the scissors to the floor. The tea I was holding leapt in a perfect arc into my handbag. ‘ Zac! You frightened the life out of me. What are you doing hiding behind the door?’ I grabbed a wad of tissues from the box on the filing cabinet and swabbed my phone, pressing the home button to check it was still functioning. ‘I didn’t realise you’d be back so early today.’ ‘I just thought I’d surprise you,’ Zac answered. ‘I had an unexpected free period.’ His face looked slightly flushed and he was still wearing his football kit, his long legs caked in dried mud. There were streaks of dirt on his cheeks and neck, as though he had made a poor attempt at army camouflage. ‘You almost gave me a bloody heart attack, you idiot! What are you doing up here anyway?’ ‘I was just looking for some sticky tape to fix the cover on my book.’ ‘You’ve got some on your desk in your bedroom. If you tidied up a bit, you might even find it. But before you do that, can you go and shower? You’re dropping mud all over my floor. How many times have I asked you to take your filthy kit off before walking dirt all over the house?’ ‘Christ, you’re in a bad mood. Hello to you too.’ Zac lurched towards the doorway. He was so tall now that he needed to duck slightly as he crossed over the threshold. He hurdled down the stairs two at a time, flecks of soil bouncing off him as he went. I could feel a headache wrestling to emerge from between my temples…’
Brilliant writing and an entrancing journey into the life of a family fractured. Highly Recommended.
Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.