Karen Sullivan, founder of Orenda Books, and I have been Twitter friends for some time now. I even got to meet her at CrimeFest15 along with some of her authors. However, I had never read any of the books published by Orenda, despite all of them being amazing crime fiction. So, when I found out about In Her Wake by Amanda Jennings on Twitter, I knew I had to ask Karen for a review copy. She was super excited about my request, and she kindly sent me a lovely paperback edition, the perfect size to carry on my handbag, but not so small so as to make reading difficult. And this was just an advance of what was quality of the novel I had in my hands.
In Her Wake tells the story of Bella Campbell, 28, who has just lost her mother. Once she returns to The Old Vicarage – the comfortable but reclusive family home – she sees how her father is struggling to cope and is behaving in an odd way. After finding his corpse the next morning in his studio, she is handed down a letter that will change Bella’s life forever. I have to stop here, because although I had written a more detailed description of the book, I realised I knew no more than this when I picked up In Her Wake, and it was for the better. Amanda Jenning’s novel can be described as a blend of two of my favourite writers: Kate Atkinson and Kate Morton. So, think it would be better to left the important things unsaid, and let you discover what happened to Bella Campbell.
The novel deals with family-related issues, and Jennings pays special attention to the inner life of Bella. While Morton books focus on a mystery and try to solve it, Jennings devotes time to how the mystery affects the characters involved, allowing readers a much more close relationship with Bella and her struggles. The cover features quotes by Hannah Beckerman and Claire MacKintosh praising the moving descriptions of grief in the novel, and although I agree, I would also add that In Her Wake is a novel about accepting the gray areas of life. Contrary to fiction, life offers us relationships with people who are not completely good, neither completely bad, and it is necessary to accept such a complexity and learn to love people. without getting into much detail, I managed to negotiate a morally complex situation through Bella’s character, but came out with a different conclusion for myself, had I been in her shoes, which did not take anything away from the novel. I throughly enjoyed reading it, and I hope more women writers engage in these types of conversation about breaking away with social expectations of perfection, cleanliness, and defined areas in order to offer us more realistic family narratives featuring female characters.
One of the most prominent family-related issues portrayed in the novel is the consequences of living with fear, and how it affects our beloved ones. Fear may cause people to over-protect children, or make decisions for people seem not to be able to make those decisions for themselves. Fear may even destroy us, and take life away from us. Jennings highlights the importance of learning to live with fear, or rather accept that bad things may happen, there is no way you can prevent them, and you just have to live in the moment. In Her Wake‘s beautiful prose, and the stunning Cornish landscape play a key role in this re-education of the mind, made possible by the fear Bella feels. However,I would say this is a novel about the sea. I live a bit far from the sea myself, and I find a special happiness at visiting the sea-side, hearing the seagulls, and just being there. Jennings seems to share my love for the sea, and she features it prominently in the novel, making it a decisive main character in the creation of Bella’s identity. In Her Wake is perfect for anyone who is in love with the sea and the seaside and is looking for a complex novel about the gray areas in life, and how to live with them. While reading, I was soothed and inspired by Jennings’ descriptions of St. Ives, a real-life town in Cornwall that I can’t wait to visit now:
I loved In Her Wake, and I think it is one of the best novels that I will read this year, and I will definitely be following the amazing collaboration between Orenda Books and Amanda Jennings looking out for jewels like this novel.
In Her Wake by Amanda Jennings is out today. Be sure to grab a copy!