Wednesday, 10 December 2014

After Helen by Paul Cavanagh

Review by The Mole

Irving Cruickshank is an unassuming history teacher grieving the death of his beautiful and headstrong wife Helen. Though their relationship was tumultuous at best, Irving is determined to hold on to his happier memories of Helen. Their teenaged daughter Severn, however, is unable to come to terms with her death. When Severn disappears after stealing a book that may reveal more about her mother than she ever wanted to know, Irving is frantic. He follows her to Toronto where he’s forced to confront his life with Helen; from their chance encounter at her father’s bookshop to his clumsy courtship and their turbulent marriage. Irving gradually realises that some truths can’t be changed and that he must face up to the reality of Helen if he has any chance of repairing his relationship with his daughter.

You know when you pick up a book and then realise you have mistaken the author for someone else and the further you get into the book the more delighted you become to have made the mistake? That.

The story is told chapter by chapter alternating between Irving and Helen's turbulent past and Irving and Severn's confrontational present in smallish chunks. Irving starts out frustrated at Severn's rebellion and her running away. In order to find Severn he joins forces with Marla, the mother of Severn's boyfriend. Slowly, with Marla's common sense approach, the atmosphere settles but can Irving and Severn ever reconcile their differences with everything they have learned about Helen?

This is Cavanagh's first book that was originally published in Canada and while it has received critical acclaim it has only now become available to the rest of the world.

While it is an emotional roller coaster it's not overly sentimental and didn't draw me in the way many books do but is a well executed story of parental relationships with teenage children and the needs of both adult and child, and the space and support they both need from each other and those around them.

I was swept along from page one and only slightly frustrated occasionally when a chapter ended at what felt like an inappropriate point. Was it a story that blew my socks off? Well perhaps not but I still did really enjoy it.

Publisher  - Paperback and ebook from all the usual sources
Genre - Adult Fiction

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