When I go to the theatre I am utterly transfixed by the magic of it. I remember all the way back to a Robin Hood play at Nottingham’s Playhouse Theatre as a child which had me gripped. Robin made the pantomime villains give away their ill-gotten riches (chocolate coins) to the gathered poor (us children sat around the fringes of the stage) and I tried to give mine back in sympathy for this frightened soul handing over his treats at sword point. Even now as a more cynical adult I am captivated by the wonder of story.
Reading In Her Wake, the third novel by Amanda Jennings, transported me to that same magical place as her wonderful writing pulled me right into the midst of her devastating story of loss, grief and resurrection. I didn’t just read In Her Wake, I experienced it; the vacuum of loss, the exhilaration of new life; the frustration, the pain, the exploration and the hope. Just like a good play, a good book is an immersive experience with no need for virtual reality technology, just words on a page mysteriously laid down by an artist to enthral.
Bella Campbell returns home to bury her mother, a woman she loves despite a controlling nature that in turn led her daughter to marry David, who accompanies her and himself takes charge of her life. Bella has always had strong influences in her life who she could lean upon, but a family secret brings her world crashing down around her and she must strike out on her own to make sense of who she really is. As she is uprooted by a series of horrifying shocks she sees old relationships in new lights and begins to understand herself and those around her with a clarity and depth that changes everything.
Through Bella’s sharing of her journey, interrupted occasionally by the memories and writing of Henry Campbell, we see the power of love, obsession, grief, despair and hope to transform people and lives, individually and collectively; one all-consuming, visceral need that sends out overwhelming and exponential consequences into a complex web of lives. It is for each reader to discover the truth of this psychological thriller which questions the very nature of who we are, so I will give no more away about the plot. Suffice to say that it is a hurtling rollercoaster of emotions rooted in authentically crafted human characters.
Years ago I saw a production of Hamlet, by the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford, which began and ended with a snippet of black and white home movie. With Hamlet avenged but also slain the stage went dark and on the screen a boy ran into the open arms of his father. It was an ending heavy with palpable emotion that left me captured in the story, for a brief but powerful moment I was unable to return to the reality of the theatre around me. A book has no visual props but Jennings draws her characters and story with such expertise and beauty that she achieves the same engagement and I genuinely cannot recommend her writing enough.