Tell Tale by Sam Hayes

Hayes This is the story of several women – or is it? The novel opens with an un-named woman about to throw herself off a bridge in despair. We then flash back to several stories told in alternating chapters or segments – one story is about a young girl of about eight years old who is abandoned by her father at a children’s home. The home is awful, more reminiscent of a Victorian workhouse than an institution of this or even last century. Another is about Nina, who is happily married to Mick, an artist. They adore each other and their teenage daughter Josie, though Josie spends much of her time on Afterlife, a social networking website as well as going on cosy shopping trips with her mum. Nina, when not in her "perfect wife or mother" role,  is exceptionally nervous and paranoid –  it seems due to some previous, hinted-at, traumatic experience. For this reason she is always going to pieces when apparently trivial events occur, such as when she receives an old hair slide in the post. I kept mentally telling her to get a grip and tell someone. A third story is about a young woman who arrives at a boarding school as the new staff assistant. There seem to be many under-the-surface passions heaving away between the girls and the teachers, particularly Adam, a young man from Australia who seems to have hidden motives for being at the school as well as being involved, possibly, with one of the students.

It seems clear that these stories are related, and indeed connections become explicit about half-way through the book. Until then, the novel seems quite slow-paced, mainly due to its narrative style of dealing with each woman’s (or girl's)  narrow perspective and confusion, so bigger-picture clues (such as time and place, or in the case of the children's home, adult assessment of what is going on) can be withheld from the reader. I have to admit I found the novel rather melodramatic and Nina, in particular, seems unnecessarily wimpy and secretive to her own detriment and that of her relationships. The last section, when the true motive of some of the characters is revealed, and the identities of the women become explicit, is by far the best, as action and therefore pace, picks up. The tension is a bit lessened by the behaviour of some of the characters, though, for example Nina’s inexplicable inability to contact someone she knows can help her at a crucial plot point, and the whole, crazy (illogical, cruel and unnecessary) “jumping off the bridge” episode.

I don’t think this novel is really a crime story, it’s more of a combination of "fiction as recommended by women's magazines", saga and “misery memoir” in fictional form. I am not a fan of any of these genres, and am completely allergic to women's magazines,  so I am probably not the best person to assess the novel. The theme of danger to young people on the internet that is highlighted in the author’s preface as her main motivation to write the book seems to me both well-known among teenagers these days, and to be a lesser evil by far than some of the other extremely nasty things that turn out to have been going on when all, finally, is revealed.

Review first posted at Petrona, August 2010.

This entry was posted in Books, Domestic, England, Europe, Mystery, Thriller. Bookmark the permalink.

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