Nicci Gerrard writes terrific psychological suspense thrillers with her husband Sean French. As Nicci French they have written a few books I have enjoyed immensely, particularly Killing Me Softly. On her own, Gerrard is a thoughtful and talented writer, generally concerned with the minutia of daily life and the relationships which both trouble and sustain us.
So I’m going to blame the fact that I didn’t love Nicci Gerrard’s third novel The Moment You Were Gone on the fact that August was a bit of a bust for me reading-wise. Perhaps it was the spectacular weather, but this was the third novel I’ve started in the last couple of weeks (and the only one I finished).
The Moment You Were Gone is the story of Nancy and Gaby, childhood friends. We see them as children, as young adults and then we meet Gaby again as she’s dropping her only son, Ethan, off at university. At this point in the story, she and Nancy have been estranged for almost 20 years, although Gaby has an inkling of where her old friend is. Instead of going home after leaving Ethan, Gaby decides to revisit her past and hops a train to Cornwall where she tracks Nancy down. It is this reconnection which sets off a chain of events which you can see coming a mile off. What you might not see coming, however, is the way these revelations change and shape the people involved.
This is a novel about friendship, certainly, but is also a novel about love: the love between siblings and families, between husbands and wives and between friends. As Gaby’s life begins to unravel, Ethan’s life begins to flourish. We watch him navigate those first few weeks away from home and we watch him fall in love with his best mate’s girl.
Despite the secret that is central to this novel, there are no bad guys here. Everyone makes the choices they think are the best for the right reasons. Watching Gaby deal with the fall out from her discovery is more like watching a fender bender than a train wreck, but I think I actually mean that as a compliment. Although I didn’t necessarily warm to Gaby, I did admire the way she moved forward despite the fact that her world had been tipped over.
The last third of this book is a thoughtful meditation on what happens when you reach a certain point in your life. From this vantage point you can look back.
She asked herself what point there was in the frantic emotions of the past few weeks if in the end she was just a pinprick on a dot in a galaxy that was itself negligible. All the scrabbling around, the desperate search for happiness, meaning and union – while around us the millions of stars shine on, implacably distant and remote…. How strange, to care so passionately and yet to mean so little and to die alone and go where no one can follow. (362)
It would be impossible not to relate to some aspect of this book and I can’t fault either the story or the writer for the fact that I didn’t love it. Just reader’s fatigue, I guess.