So after a long day in London way back in June, I boarded our train clutching the copy of Whatever You Love by Louise Doughty as my 'stay awake' read on the way home. Except I was so dog-tired after an early start and a long day walking around the metropolis I felt sure I'd be sound asleep by Newbury and no book was going to work any magic at all.
I love that moment when the train pulls out, time to rummage through the purchases and in this case I'd been very naughty indeed in the shop at the V&A, so I had enough to look at plus the regular flow of train refreshments until I eventually yawned and settled down with Louise Doughty's book.
It was not in the plan that I would be a hundred pages in and still wide-awake by Tiverton Parkway and slightly annoyed that it was Exeter next stop, and nor was I phased by yet another book wherein a tragic death occurs, in this case a child.
That all has to be to Louise Doughty's credit because the planets were aligned firmly against this book, more harrowing fictional death, more grief, does it ever end?
Did I really want to read more?
When the knock comes at the door Laura senses that the shadowy figures behind the glass are the bearers of bad news. Her nine-year old daughter Betty, walking to a dance class with her best friend Willow... and the two of them walking alone for the first time, has been missing for several hours and when the tragic news is broken, Laura is understandably broken too. The presence of her little boy Rees is small comfort as the excruciating pain descends.
Enter Betty's father David, now estranged from the family, remarried and with a baby son of his own and watch as Louise Doughty skillfully peels back the layers of such a profound loss, exposing flesh and bone and beating hearts as she captures the essence of a tragedy.
Bereft and heartbroken, Laura makes a pledge of revenge on the perpetrator that you somehow sense she might keep
'I am calm as I make this promise: I am going to find out what you love, then whatever it is, I am going to track it down and I am going to take it away from you.'
So much of this grief so accurately portrayed, the numbness, that inability that the bereaved often have to read emotional situations with any degree of accuracy. Life can only be viewed through the distorting lens of the loss, paranoia almost becomes a comfortable bed-fellow, frequently easing the pain with an irrational explanation.
Then there's the emotional and physical depletion, the shunning by friends, that temporary displacement and exhaustion, it's all here, that bone-tired weariness of grief.
If I've made that all sound a fraction overwhelming don't be deterred because it isn't.
I have several friends who have been driven apart from those they love by their grief, when the mourning is out of tandem and a couple may never get back in step, but Louise Doughty explores from a different perspective. Laura and David are already set asunder so what can the bitter blow of the loss of a precious child do in these circumstances?
Who will blame who... who will forgive who... who will rescue who from the abyss.
Those thoughts all slowly emerged and I detected great swathes of accuracy and veracity as I read. This is a book written from the heart and with deeply perceptive attention to that fine descriptive detail that never feels overbearing but adds to the whole.
Sometimes the lightest of touches revealed so much as in the problem of dependency and the unlikely bond forged with the police woman who broke the news and who Laura subsequently insists becomes her liaison officer,
'I didn't tell her the real reason why I wanted her : it wasn't in spite of the fact that she had brought the news to my door, it was because of it. She and the young male officer together formed the bridge I had just crossed, from my old life with Betty in it to the new, unimaginable one without her. Bridges can be crossed both ways.'
I followed Louise Doughty's column in the press a while ago, A Novel in a Year which was so good it even made me think perhaps I could have a go one day, but having read Whatever You Love I think it might be best left to the Louises of this world and I'll stay here amongst the readers.