by Sheila A Grant
A fascinating first novel from a talented writer.
Meredith is an unusual heroine. Who would have believed that the story of a woman who has withdrawn from society could be so gripping? A very original story, harrowing at times, amusing at others. Moving and emotional, it’s a rattling good read that takes readers on a roller-coaster of emotion, fear, tension, kindness and courage, with a sprinkling of humour.
This is Meredith’s story and readers are certain to sympathise and even relate to such a delightful person. Something dark has affected her in the past, haunting her still, leaving her with this fear of going out. Despite having been diagnosed with depression, and apparently suffering from agoraphobia, she is an endearing personality.
I suspect intense research was pursued by the writer to create such a well written book on a difficult subject. The result is a fascinating read that reads like non-fiction. I have learned more about mental health from this book than from the media.
It’s 1214 days since she first isolated in her home, never to leave. The narration is totally Meredith’s thoughts so readers are witness to her trauma easily relating and sympathising with her life and determination to struggle on bravely.
Never one to sit and mope, there are fleeting moments when she appears almost content, keeping busy and working from home. An ambitious cook creating mouthwatering meals, she relaxes with challenging jigsaws of exotic locations abroad. Did she long to visit such places? Her bookshelves are those of an avid reader including her much admired Emily Dickinson, whose work she can recite from memory. From self-help books she compiles a regular work-out to keep herself fit. Always hovering over her is a memory of events that conspired to reduce her to a life afraid of the outside, and with a sense of guilt that the blame is hers.
We see her forcing herself to prepare to leave the house, bag ready, shoes on, and approaching her door… then overwhelmed with fear she collapses in a debilitating panic attack, angry at her own failure.
Why? What is she afraid of?
Sadie, her long term friend and only visitor, knows only too well what caused Meredith’s total withdrawal from the world, but despite her many hints and suggestions of where she may find help, Meredith remains alone.
‘Strength in Numbers’ is an online group with which she does become involved, if only for chat and counsel. Did the anonymity give her confidence? She forms a close bond with Celeste, who benefits from Meredith’s kind words and support. That ease crumbles when Celeste begins pushing to meet up face to face. The very thought of opening the door to welcome in anyone at all fills Meredith with dread.
Completing a form linked to a help group, ‘We’re here to Hold your Hand’ brought Tom, a counsellor, to her door. Only after through-the-door conversation did Meredith remember her manners permitting him entry.
Tom. A stranger. A man!
They have a superficially friendly chat with a cup of tea. Could Tom’s kindly words be the first step to begin Meredith’s release from her thoughts? Not without a struggle. However, he borrows a book which means he will return. A step forward.
The author maintains the tension with skill as Tom continues to visit and Celeste remains in touch still pushing to meet up.
Will the causes of Meredith’s withdrawal be revealed? After three years, is it possible she will return to the world and regain a normal life?
Like her jigsaws, little pieces appear and begin to fit together.
A super book that I loved and one that will stay with me for a very long time.
Publisher: Penguin Michael Joseph
Length: 384 pages