Book review by Jack Bourke
‘I have the same days, over and over again. The same walls, the same bed, the same thoughts carouselling around in my head.’
Ravine Roy lives a reclusive life with her mother Amma on a council estate in Leicester, bedridden with chronic pain syndrome stemming from a seemingly sinister event in her early childhood. Her 18th birthday provides the backdrop for the story’s opening scene, an occasion which her mother hopes will inspire a change in her daughter’s introverted lifestyle. However, to her dismay, Ravine is quick to shut down any hope of this happening, as she flatly dismisses the guests who have showed up to the impromptu party in her bedroom (most of whom arrived with the promise of cake).
This debut novel by writer Mahsuda Snaith takes the form of a bildungsroman, in which Ravine slowly begins to see the truth that the solitude of her bedroom has kept hidden from her. As the story unfolds, her room becomes a metaphorical prison that, as the events of her past are revealed, is a fitting location for her to brood over her role in the life-changing event of 30 December 1999. Throughout the story, Ravine talks directly to her childhood friend and neighbour, Marianne, who ‘disappeared’ the day before the turn of the millennium. As a result of this direct approach, the reader is constantly drawn along with the direction the narrative takes, which makes for an engaging read from the outset.
Snippets of Ravine and Marianne’s childhood together provide background to their relationship and add to the mystery of the latter’s ‘disappearance’. Indeed, at times it is not without good reason that the reader comes to suspect that Ravine may be complicit in Marianne’s unexplained departure, and that this guilt is what fuels her physical and emotional withdrawal from the outside world. However, the cast of supporting characters, including Marianne’s mother, brother Jonathan, and uncle Walt, all have their own instabilities, leading to a genuine ‘whodunit’ situation, of sorts, as the novel progresses.
The novel’s title is fitting as it reveals a certain truth to which most of its characters could attest. The role of memory and truth are constantly called into doubt in the story, as the differences between the archetypal ‘good’ and ‘bad’ characters come into question. Overall, The Things We Thought We Knew is an enjoyable novel, with likeable characters that are fleshed out just enough to provide a believable storyline. Snaith does not delve into frivolous detail that could distract from the novel’s progression, instead using plain language to portray a young woman’s struggle to find meaning after the loss of her childhood friend and companion. A solid debut.