Van has finished reading…Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

7 Aug

We have these phrases – I’m loathe to call it a cliché as there’s generally a hint of truth about a cliché – that we roll out at convenient moments. A life turned upside-down. It’s hyperbole at best, at worst a band-aid over something we can’t, or perhaps don’t want to try and describe. But Jenna’s life really is turned upside-down. Thirteen years old, ever since she was able to do so, she’s been searching for her mother who she hasn’t seen in ten years. There were circumstances: traces of violence; a body – not, it would appear her mother’s. She was found unconscious nearby and taken to hospital. But when she woke she fled. And all the questions that raises have haunted Jenna since. But chief among them: why did she leave her behind?

  This book is built on memory, how we remember people, places, events, even to a scientific level. How memories are imprinted in our minds, and also how trauma can leave the white noise that is the hole in Jenna’s recollection of that all-important event ten years before. Then there is the cliché about elephants and their memory. No surprise, then, that Jenna’s mother, Dr Alice Metcalf’s post-grad study is around memory and grief in elephants. This brings in a wealth of research, presented through the voice of Dr Alice – fiction to all intents and purposes, though you have to know that this is Jodi Picoult weaving in actual scientific research or anecdotal evidence from all those people mentioned in the acknowledgements. It’s striking for two reasons: firstly, it never feels wasted, though the temptation must surely have been great to include just one more brilliant elephant story of the many she’d found, and; secondly, these are things that actually happened so that, scientifically observed and presented or not, you can’t help but anthropomorphise, can’t help but feel that connection even across the unbridgeable distance of time and experience.

  Jenna is excellently drawn – the kind of wise-beyond-her-years, ever-so-slightly-smartmouth outsider teenager you’d frown at, but with a smirk. Her partners-in-detection I found interesting not in the differences but in their similarities. They were distinct enough in their behaviour and speech patterns, though I wonder whether it was a brave choice on Jodi Picoult’s part to have so small a gap between them – I suspect it wouldn’t have been so successful a pairing had they been outlandishly different. There is for the most part a sense of restraint about Dr Alice which fits for an academic. And yes, even the elephants have their own distinct characteristics.

  The title is spot on, though it’s only after reading the book that I can say that. Just think how many ways you can phrase those two words: they all fit.

  The ending I really like – no, I’m not going to blow it, you need to read it for yourself – although I did feel like I wanted a little more out of the ending ending, or perhaps that should be a little less; there was for me something perhaps a little rushed about the last few pages, something a little too tidy. But that’s just me.

This is the first Jodi Picoult novel I’ve read – I have a friend who loves Jodi’s books (yes, you know who you are!), so much so that we frequently had to pry one from her grip when she stayed with us on holiday. So it’s not only thanks to Hodder and Bookbridgr, but also thanks to her that I got to pick this book up. I’m very glad I did. A gripping story; turns that’ll keep you second-, third- fourth-guessing; characters that’ll have you hoping for the best and fearing the worst; and elephants: what’s not to love?

Leaving Time was published by Hodder & Stoughton in November 2014 ISBN:97818444778144 or ISBN:9781444778168 (PB)

You can find Jodi on twitter @jodipicoult or at her website:


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