If you live with a lie in your life, that day of truth will surely come.
Publisher: Olympia Publishers
First Published: 2010
Date Reviewed: 11th May 2011
Steph’s life is picture perfect; a beautiful house, a loving husband, gorgeous twin girls, and enough money for good food and fashionable clothing. But the image is deceiving, for behind it lurks a woman who isn’t quite satisfied with being a housewife – although she realises how nice a position she is in – and something else. What her husband doesn’t know is that their twins aren’t his, the product of a one-night stand with their mutual best friend, Ed. Steph never knew how to tell Theo, and couldn’t tell Ed, and now ten years have gone by. But it won’t end there.
Things He Never Knew is the debut novel of Haynes and categorising it is difficult. On the one hand you have a sort of chick-lit book, an easy read that I found provoked in me similar feelings of comfort I get when reading an Adele Parks or Lisa Jewell, but the subject matter and the handling of it move it away from the genre to provide more of a harder look into a tough situation.
At the beginning there is a great amount of dialogue in this story where a lot of times description might have been better than discussion but as the story progresses this slowly disappears and Haynes comes into her own.
The story is well thought out, whenever you think that you might have found a gap in a character’s reasoning it takes only a few more lines, at best a few paragraphs, for that gap to be filled. Indeed there are a few places where the reader may consider that Haynes has taken the easy route to create more drama, particularly near the end – but in actual fact these elements are used in order to develop the characters further and explore the domestic aspects and relationships. And it all works rather well.
The narrative flows finely and if you’re looking for a book that will keep you entertained while providing you with something to think about, as well as being impossible to put down, Things He Never Knew is the ideal candidate. Haynes’s references are often firmly based in British life but due to the relative wealth of the characters there are a lot of international references too. This makes the book simple to relate to.
Naturally the character that springs to mind as most developed is Steph, who has to re-evaluate everything she’s done and then try to piece together a life that is appropriate – but Theo’s development is of great importance. One only needs to be aware of the basic plot to know that everything will hang on him, and his progression as a person may surprise you. Haynes is neither harsh nor does she treat the characters with kid gloves; she feels for all of them and looks at the issues from an objective viewpoint. She writes in the way of a historian evaluating all the evidence before coming to a conclusion. And the conclusion may be hers but you never get the sense that she is preaching an opinion, her choices are for the characters she’s created. Julia’s participation in the story takes the narrative down a different road than you might have been expecting.
Of course one could not write about this book without looking directly at the subject at hand. In an era when people are openly bringing up children who aren’t their own, adoption aside, you have to question motives and look at the arguments with a clear contemporary mindset. But you also need to think back to the past because the book places both personal history (which has links to social history) right alongside present day culture and finds a resolution between them.
Whether or not you agree with the choices Steph makes or the way in which the issues are resolved is something for you to decide, because obviously it is not the only possible conclusion, and a good effort is made to look at the issues from a range of angles. The close and careful look into each person’s mindset allows you to understand why these choices are made.
Is this a book for chick-lit lovers or readers of fiction overall? This reader would say it fits both categories near enough equally and that there is something for everyone inside its cover. And if the third category concerns recommendation then yes, I most certainly recommend it.
May 15, 2011, 1:05 pm
[…] also received a lovely review on Friday through Twitter, which you can read here: http://wormhole.carnelianvalley.com/sarah-haynes-things-he-never-knew/. It was a particularly nice review, not just because it praised the book, but because it was truly […]