Saturday 7 February 2015

Things We Never Said by Susan Elliot Wright

In 1964 Maggie wakes to find herself in a psychiatric ward, not knowing who she is or why she has been committed. 
She slowly begins to have memories of a storm and of a man called Jack and slowly the pieces of the past begin to come together... 
In 2008 Jonathan is struggling to put his differences with his parents aside to tell them he and his wife are expecting a baby, when a detective arrives to question him about crimes committed long ago... 
And as these two tales interweave, the secrets of the past, long kept hidden, start to come to light in unexpected and sometimes startling ways. T 
he Things We Never Said is a powerful novel about fatherhood and motherhood; nature and nurture; cruelty and kindness; and mental breakdown. 
Written in beautiful, compelling prose, it is by turns revealing, witty and moving.

The Things We Never Said by Susan Elliot Wright was published in paperback by Simon & Schuster in May 2013 and is the author's debut novel.

I have a lot of books. I have a lot of books to review, and sometimes the books that I've chosen and bought myself get put to one side so that I can keep up with my review copies. Every now and again I decide that I'm going to pick out a book that has been on my shelf for far too long; a book that I haven't promised to review. The Things We Never Said  has been on the shelf for well over a year, probably closer to two years. I am so so glad that I finally got around to reading it, I have been totally swept up by this wonderful story, it's just gorgeous.

The Things We Never Said is a story told in two voices and during the prologue the reader finds themselves in 2009 on a cold, wet and windy day. This is a gentle introduction, with flash backs to the past that really sets the pace for the story that follows.

The first voice of the story is Jonathan; a teacher, a father-to-be. Jonathan is a complex and worried character, his memories of childhood are not happy, he is struggling to know how to tell his ageing and controlling father that he is to be a grandfather. Jonathan's world changes beyond recognition, it happens so fast, with work problems and family issues, a visit from a policeman who is investigating crime that were committed over forty years ago is a huge shock, and one that will change his past, and his future.

The story goes back to 1964; Maggie is a confused and scared woman, she's locked up in a psychatric hospital, taking tablets, undergoing electric shock treatment. Maggie cannot remember why she is there, what happened to her?  One small incident sparks off the beginning of Maggie's recollections, and as she gradually remembers her past, the reader accompanies her on her painful and traumatic journey.

At first, it is difficult to see how Maggie and Jonathan's lives can be connected, but as Susan Elliot Wright gently and carefully relays their individual stories, the links between them are uncovered.

The Things We Never Said is elegantly intriguing, the writing is passionate and authentic, the characters have flaws, yet are so very human. The sharp contrasts between the 1960s and the present day are clear, and fit together quite perfectly.

Susan Elliot Wright has explored many themes within this novel; the shock and shame of illegitimacy during the 60s; the pressures and political correctness of the modern-day teaching profession. The story centres on loss and deceit and the title is so very apt, for many people, certainly the lead characters in this story, it is the things that are not said that can have such a long-lasting and damaging effect on lives, and on futures.

There is a quote from author Veronica Henry on the cover of The Things We Never Said, she says "if you love Maggie O'Farrell, you will love this".  I'm usually not so keen on comparisons and Maggie O'Farrell is a fabulous author, I was worried that comparing this debut novel with such an accomplished and successful author was a big big ask. However, I am delighted to say that I agree with Veronica Henry. Susan Elliot Wright has produced a superb story, she writes beautifully. I loved every page.

Susan Elliot Wright grew up in Lewisham in south-east London, left school at sixteen and married unwisely at eighteen. She didn't begin to pursue her childhood dream of writing until she left her unhappy marriage and went to university at the age of thirty. After gaining a degree in English, she decided to choose a new name, and began flicking through the phone book for ideas. She settled on Elliot and changed her name by deed poll. Then she met 'Mr Right' (actually, Mr Wright) to whom she is now happily married. 
She has an MA in Writing from Sheffield Hallam University, where is now an Associate Lecturer. Several of her short stories have won or been shortlisted for awards, and one of these, 'Day Tripper', was broadcast on BBC Radio 4.

To find out more, visit her website
Follow her on Twitter @sewelliot


  1. Anne - every so often you review a book I HAVE to read. Here's another one! It's on my wish list already, thank you.

  2. The storyline, your review, the comparison to M O'F... I simply MUST read this!

  3. Hope you both really enjoy it. Thanks for the comments x

  4. I've had this on my shelf for ages too, a lovely review.

  5. Anne, Thanks again for this lovely review. Like you, I'm generally not keen on comparisons with other authors, though of course I was incredibly flattered by the comparison to Maggie O'Farrell, (she's my favourite living author) I was very nervous about it when the book came out, and not everyone has agreed, obviously. Fortunately, the majority seem to, which is wonderful. Not sure what Maggie herself would think, though! Anyway, I'm really thrilled you enjoyed it, and it's so kind of you to take the time to write this intelligent and thoughtful review. Hope everyone else enjoys it, too!