Over the summer I have read three books that feature missing girls.
In Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, the girl is a teenager who has drowned. As the family come to terms with their grief, each in his or her different ways, we learn, through a series of flash backs, about the various influences in the girl’s life that lead to her death. Underlying it all are the problems that accompany a mixed race marriage in the USA.
On the surface they are a successful middle class family: father is a professor, mother, a promising medical school student who gave up her career for marriage. We learn of both parents’ backgrounds and how they are influenced by racial and gender discrimination in 1950s middle America, the influences that make them all the more ambitious for their own children.
Following the death of their oldest daughter the family appears to be falling apart, but, as the truth about their daughter’s life emerges, we and they discover the dangers of too much positive thinking. There are, after all, some things that you simply can’t bring about by the force of will. A truly brilliant first novel that fully deserves the many accolades bestowed upon it.
Mark Edwards’s The Retreat is very different. Both missing girls are 8 years old. One disappeared just two years before the arrival of the narrator at a writer’s retreat in North Wales, the other 35 years before that. Neither has been found. Some locals believe it is the fulfilment of a curse issued by a long dead ‘red witch’. More likely is the possibility that the second girl fell into the river and drowned. Her father did drown in a vain attempt to rescue her. The mother, still dealing with her grief, has set up the retreat in an old house she owns in an effort to set her life on a new path.
The narrator becomes intrigued by the mystery surrounding the two disappearances and gradually uncovers various dark secrets about the inhabitants of the small Welsh community. As he does so, a close relationship develops between him and the girl’s mother. The resolution, when it comes, is darkly thrilling. I certainly enjoyed this psychological thriller and aim to seek out more by this author.
At the heart of Steig Larson’s best selling thriller, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, is the mystery of a 16 year old girl who disappeared from an island community in Sweden 35 years before the investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist is engaged by her father in a final attempt to uncover the truth. Lisbeth Salander, the titular girl, is, in turn, engaged by him to utilise her special skills to assist with the search.
This is a relatively minor role for Lisbeth whose story will continue at length over two further volumes of the original trilogy. (Larson died shortly after delivering the three manuscripts to his publisher. There have been subsequent books featuring Salander but written by David Lagercrantz).
There are a number of parallel plots in this complicated novel featuring a large cast of characters. At the centre is the wealthy, but extremely dysfunctional, Vanger family. The trilogy expertly combines psychological thriller with police procedural and ‘private eye’ mystery, drawing heavily on Larson’s experience as an investigative journalist and his knowledge of the magazine and newspaper publishing industry.
I could not resist the temptation to go on to read the rest of Salander’s story in Larson’s two further books.
I feel bound to issue a warning for those of a sensitive nature who may not yet have read this book and the sequels: all three contain extremely graphic accounts of perverted sexual practices.
That, then, was a large part of my summer reading. What about you? Which books have you finished reading? What did you think of them? Let me know in the comments. If you reviewed them post a link.