I would like to thank Net Galley and Quercus Books for the advance copy of ‘What She Never Told Me’ by Kate McQuaile.
Imagine growing up in a world dominated by your mother, defined by your relationship with her, steered through life’s twists and turns by her decisions for you. Now imagine that being taken away, that after her death you begin to understand and realise that some of the memories you hold dear cover a big, big, secret.
That is the premise of ‘What She Never Told Me’, the debut novel by Kate McQuaile. The story begins as our protagonist, Louise Redmond, sits at the hospital bedside, waiting for her mother to pass away. She had never known her father and beyond the kindly Dermot who came into their lives when she was a young child, in her youth her mother was her world. Her mother always refused to talk much of her biological father, leaving Louise disappointed, and now that her marriage has seemingly collapsed and her one remaining constant is being taken away too, Louise is left at a turning point in her life.
When she meets her estranged Uncle and his family at the funeral, she is at a very vulnerable stage in her life, near breaking point. Despite her hopes, the reading of her will takes her no closer to the secret of who her father really was and she becomes depressed, barely able to function, turning her back on her work and her friends in favour of a bout of self-pity. Finally returning to Ireland to sort through her Mother’s possessions, Louise comes upon an old letter, one which triggers a memory buried deep. This reignites her desire to find out the truth of her past and the meaning behind her dreams, leading her to a truth that she could not possibly prepare for. Mixed in with this is the battle to save her marriage, her husband desperate to reconcile with her but sill hiding secrets of his own, secrets which could be enough to break Louise completely.
The story is told in the first person, and through this we get to experience the unravelling of things in her mind, her own private battles as she tries to figure out just what is going on. She is rather an insular character, reluctant to share her feelings with others, something which changes when she begins to see a psychologist, although even then she struggles to tell anyone the whole truth. She confides a little in Dermot’s daughter Angela and her best friend Ursula. I feel like these relationships could have been developed more, but are in keeping with Louise’s reluctance to share her thoughts. It was just her and her mother for so long, that this does have a ring of truth about it.
My only reason for not giving this 5 stars were in Louise’s relationship with Declan, which given recent events was probably understandable but didn’t really help me like her as a person, and the secret behind her and her husband, Sandy’s separation. I am not sure that the extra knife in Louise’s back was necessary and I could see, almost from the start, where this particular thread was leading. And maybe it’s just me, but I wasn’t exactly shocked by the reveal at the end. I had been anticipating it from very early on, as soon as she found the item which triggered the recurring dream. It didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book however, and I was intrigued to see how Louise would finally make her discovery, reading through the whole thing in one sitting. Yes, some of the text at the start could perhaps have been shortened (for example, I get that she was depressed – not sure the scene in the pub on her birthday changed or added anything much) and I would perhaps have liked to see more of the emotional impact that the big secret had on the lives of everyone instead.
For me, this is a great debut, definitely worthy of 4.5 stars. The story is well crafted, the narrative taking the reader on a journey through the beautiful Irish countryside and Louise’s past and forming a very clear picture in your mind of what her life was like as a child. If you like a good, emotional mystery, then I would definitely recommend this book. I will certainly be looking out for more from this author.