Book review: page-turning and emotional thriller ‘Then She Was Gone’ by Lisa Jewell ★★★½

Ellie is about to sit her GCSE exams. Smart and kind and bubbly, she has her whole life ahead of her. So when she vanishes without a trace, it’s hard to agree with the police assessment – that she probably ran away from home.

Her family – Mum, Dad, and two siblings – are forced to move on, but her mother Laurel doesn’t really give up hope that her golden girl will come home to them. The public interest in the case fades and they slide back into their ordinary lives.

Ten years later, and now divorced, Laurel walks into a cafe and locks eyes with a handsome author, Lloyd. A relationship quickly develops, and Laurel meets his precocious daughter Poppy – who has an eerie resemblance to Ellie.

There’s a palpable tension that builds as we approach the truth of what really happened to Ellie. There’s a poignant part of the story told in her third-person narration in the time leading up to her disappearance, and as we get to know her character, it makes the inevitable even more harrowing. The switching of narrative – a textbook thriller device – is a successful way of making her more than a(nother) faceless missing/dead girl.

It’s pretty sad, and pretty dark. I wouldn’t necessarily describe it as the beach-read sort – although it’s an addictive read you can whip through it in a few sittings, it’s also emotional and raw and shows the devastating impact of not knowing the fate of a loved one, and the endless bounds of maternal love.

There’s some suspension of disbelief – as there always is with domestic noirs like these – but it doesn’t detract from it being an engrossing, twisty and character-driven thriller.

‘So, in retrospect, she could have blamed her sister’s friend with the loud laugh for her being there at that precise moment, but she really didn’t want to do that. The blame game could be exhausting sometimes. The blame game could make you lose your mind … all the infinitesimal outcomes, each path breaking up into a million other paths every time you heedlessly chose one, taking you on a journey that you’d never find your way back from.’

For anyone who has read this book, did you know that Lisa Jewell envisioned an entirely different ending in her first draft to her editors? Here’s a fascinating post where she talks about it. Obviously, spoilers for anyone who hasn’t read it!!

More psychological thriller reviews below…


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