Daughter by Jane Shemilt is narrated from the perspective of Jenny, whose daughter Naomi doesn’t return home one night. A desperate search for her ensues and, a year on, the family are still none the wiser – but the effects of her disappearance have taken its devastating toll on them all. Daughter highlights the pain of losing a child, particularly when there is no closure for the family. The book reveals, bit by tiny bit, the events leading up to the night of the disappearance, and all the way through I was thinking ‘maybe this happened to her‘ or ‘maybe THAT happened to her‘ or… ‘she’s DEAD?‘.
I do like a novel that keeps me guessing!
As more and more information about the lead up to Naomi’s disappearance come to light, it’s obvious that Jenny becomes increasingly paranoid, suspecting everyone of deceiving her in one way or another, from their family support worker Michael to her own husband! There are various thoughts from Jenny which suggest this to the reader – “Perhaps he [husband Ted] didn’t like that, so he had – what? Raped her? Killed her? He would know how to; he would know precisely how to block the carotid artery, or crush her trachea.” She also thinks of Michael: “Could it be because he had done it before and he knew how to behave as if nothing had happened?” and “Could he be playing a game?” Because we are hearing events from Jenny’s perspective, this paranoia therefore only adds to the tension throughout the novel.
Naomi is the only thing on her mind; the majority of the time when she uses the word ‘she’ you know it’s Naomi who she is referring to, because who else would a mother care about when her own daughter is missing? The hunt for her daughter takes up Jenny’s entire world, and it’s interesting to consider the way this inevitably affects the rest of her family who overall seem like quite realistic characters. I really loved the development of the characters throughout the novel; they seemed real to me and, although I couldn’t imagine what this situation would be like, I felt like Jenny and her family seemed like valid representations of the horrors of literally ‘losing’ a loved one.
The struggle to raise a child ‘successfully’ is a prevalent theme throughout the book. It’s not just Naomi out of Jenny’s children who has issues; no one in their family is perfect and it really made me think about how hard it must be to raise children, and how much pressure there is to get it right. Scary stuff really! We learn, as Jenny does, that Naomi wasn’t such a ‘good girl’ after all and Jenny herself has made mistakes as well.
The story jumps from the present tense and back again to the events leading up to the night of her disappearance, and the reader finds out more about the family’s life through Jenny’s memories. I loved reading the past tense aspect of the novel but it left me wanting more of the present tense narrative as I was so intrigued! Where are you Naomi? Where did you go? Each section is headed by the time in relation to Naomi’s disappearance and this really emphasises how Jenny’s sense of time is intrinsically connected to this awful night.
The language itself was quite easy and enjoyable to read. I felt that the novel was written incredibly well and presented to the reader a mix of emotions, from the happier memories Jenny has before Naomi disappeared to the dark, devastating time afterwards. Powerful descriptions made the characters feel like real people and left me feeling completely immersed in the story. Although the ending wasn’t what I expected, I felt both hugely satisfied and emotionally drained by the end of the book!
This is a gripping, poignant story which kept me intrigued throughout and a novel which I would recommend to anyone who enjoys a skilfully written mystery story!
**Disclaimer: I received an advance copy of this book from Penguin publishers in return for an honest and unbiased review, thank you to the publisher for providing it!**