Acclaimed novelist Livi Michael returns with a tense novel about memory, guilt and reinvention, and the dangerous power games played by children and adults.
At the International Conference Centre in Geneva, Hannah Rossier, formerly Annie Price, comes face to face with Neville Weir, someone from her childhood whom she never expected, or wanted, to meet again. As Neville’s reasons for attending the conference become clear, the dark waters of Hannah’s past start to rise. Hannah is a psychotherapist, with a specialist interest in memory and how connections are made between past and present. She has reinvented herself successfully, moving from a small northern town in England to Lucerne, Switzerland, with her husband, Thibaut.
Nobody, not even Hannah, knows the full truth about herself. Her ‘memories’ consist of glimpses of the place where she played in childhood, known simply as ‘The Wild’. Over the three days of the conference, she has to decide whether she can avoid Neville, or whether she should submit to an encounter with him and with her past. And in her keynote lecture about the neuroscience of memory, how much to conceal or reveal. But can her specialism save her from drowning?
LIVI MICHAEL has published seven previous novels for adults: Rebellion; Succession; Accession; Under a Thin Moon which won the Arthur Welton award; Their Angel Reach which won the Faber Prize; All the Dark Air which was shortlisted for the Mind Award; and Inheritance, which won a Society of Authors Award.
She has also published several novels for young adults and children and her short stories have been published in several magazines and anthologies. Livi has two sons and lives in Greater Manchester. She teaches creative writing at Manchester Metropolitan University and has been a senior lecturer in Creative Writing at Sheffield Hallam University.
My thoughts: a terrible incident from her childhood haunts Professor Hannah Rossier but she has been able to bury it deep enough to work, marry, build a reputation, until now when an unfriendly face from the past tries to bring her world down.
Neville was a slightly strange little boy who followed Hannah (then known as Annie) and her friend Joanna around, spying on them in the way of lonely, socially awkward kids. He was caught up in the incident and blames Hannah for the shape his life took. Although she was also a child at the time.
This was incredibly fascinating, I used to play in the woods with my friend at about the same age, and we were forever coming home soaking wet or coated in mud, famously once without a shoe (left in the sinking mud that took it) but luckily nothing serious ever happened. Children’s memories are often terrible and since we know that the part of the brain that understands consequences doesn’t develop till later, they can’t always explain their actions.
To place so much blame, although Neville insists it’s not about blame, on another child, is very wrong. It was the adults (his parents, teachers, social workers, police) who let him down, who punished him wrongly, who didn’t see that he was innocent, not Hannah. Indeed they hadn’t seen each other for 40 years and she had no idea what had happened to him. Her own experience was difficult enough.
The events at the conference, the confrontation, when it comes, is shocking. Neville carries so much anger, despite overcoming it all, despite his career and life now. It would be like carrying resentment of our childhood slights or bullies all our lives – it’s not healthy.
Hannah is confused and hurt by his accusations, by his genuine anger. He can’t even really say what it is he wants from her. He insists it’s not an apology he wants, but can’t articulate it. Jopi, the conference host, attempts to resolve things, but I don’t know if it actually makes it worse. There’s still a lot unresolved at the end and I found it unsettling not knowing how any of the characters were going to move ahead.
*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.