The Missing One
by Lucy Atkins
published by Quercus books
I haven’t written a review for some time, so I thought I’d share a book with you that held me captivated. In fact, it’s the first book in quite a while that had me reading into the small hours to find out what happened… I just had to finish it.
The Missing One is the kind of book that slowly draws you in. This is the story of Kali McKenzie, she’s coming to terms with the loss of her mother, an artist who only ever painted the sea, and whose seeming indifference to her eldest daughter has left an undeniable mark. While looking for her mother’s birth certificate in the days following her death, Kali stumbles across a bundle of postcards written to her mother and unearths a family mystery that will change her life forever.
Who is the mysterious Susannah who has written a postcard to her mother on the same day every year for nearly forty years? What do the words Thinking of You mean? Why was her mother so distant and her father so secretive? When her mother’s notebooks give no further clues, and with her home life disintegrating before her eyes, Kali decides to find out and making the decision of a lifetime takes herself and her toddler, Finn, to British Columbia.
In the interest of spoilers I will tell you no more, but Kali soon comes to realise that her mother was not as one dimensional as she grew up believing.
The characterisation in this novel comes across really well, helped by the way the book is structured. For the main story Lucy uses first person present narrative (e.g. I’m moving towards my goal, I like the way the sun sets etc.) then for the second story thread (don’t worry, I won’t tell you who or what that is!) moves into a third person past tense (she moved towards her goal, she liked the way the sun set etc.). You have to read the book to really understand how effective this is. Usually first person narrative tends to grate with me, but it really does get you closer to the story and the characters – in this novel it really does add to the sense of immediacy. It took me a few pages to get used to, but once I did get used to it, it really did bring the story alive. The parallel story just as importantly works really well in the past tense, as it helps to break up the novel and there is no wondering about where you are or who you are with.
The tag line on the cover reads Loss Breeds Obsession and I could not have stated it better. Kali is obsessed with her mother’s past once she realises that she had a life story that was never told. As daughters and sons do we ever really understand the life that lies behind our parents?
As you accompany Kali through her journey you will fall into her world, and it’s one that will leave its mark. Lucy Atkins has written a book that is as brilliant as it is understated… it is gripping, full of suspense but also immensely human.
This book was difficult to put down, and I will pick it up again in the future, I have a feeling that a second read will unearth layers that were missed the first time round.
The Missing One can be purchased from Quercus books in both ebook and physical format and from your usual bookshop.