Review of the reads – June 2021
Safe and Sound
by Philippa East
When her job with the local Housing Association in Brixton requires Jennifer Arden to follow up on one tenant’s unpaid rent, she is distraught to find the dead body of the woman in question, Sarah Jones, which has been undiscovered for 10 months.
Perplexed by the circumstances and the possibility that no one might have been concerned for Sarah’s wellbeing for almost a year, Jenn begins to delve deeper into the case. Following her own hunches and crossing lines to get closer to the truth, episodes from Jenn’s past threaten to overwhelm her in the process – and possibly put her son’s life in danger.
Safe and Sound is a novel of mirrorings, splits and oppositions that express the double lives and the emotional strain that the characters try to conceal – often pulled in two directions, saying one thing but wanting to admit another. There are even two separate narratives running throughout. In this way, East builds an atmosphere of uncertainty, paranoia and fear, leaving the reader to try to guess along with Jenn, while capturing the acute details of mental turmoil at the same time.
The Lincolnshire based author also works as a psychologist and therapist and presents the realities of anxiety and trauma in a way that will resonate with many readers and offer an insight for those close to such experiences. But while the novel at times openly champions the knowledge and insight of the profession, there remain apparent contradictions, pieces that don’t add up. Wings, those most hopeful of symbols, are here introduced in scenes of grave danger – in images of dead flies, a hovering wasp, and a dangerous game played between two girls trying to make sense of the upheaval in their lives.
Published by HQ, Price £7.99
Secrets at Bletchley Park
by Margaret Dickinson
It is not all wartime intelligence secrets that are the focus of Margaret Dickinson’s new novel. There is more emphasis on family mysteries and longstanding confidences among friends than the urgent activities of Bletchley Park – but it makes the backdrop all the more symbolic.
The stories of Mattie and Victoria are told in turn, with clear parallels – each has a neglectful, selfish parent who threatens their child’s future when their extraordinary academic talents become clear. Dickinson depicts both the lives of the poorest and the most privileged, with the young women coming from very different backgrounds – the ginnels of Sheffield and the wealthier parts of London – all the while underlining the same mistakes that those from any social class can make. The pair meet when they are hired to work at the code-breaking facility during the war and gradually they are able to confide in one another, sharing their worries about their personal relationships and political developments as never before.
Dickinson moves between domestic and international scenes throughout. There is a striking use of the German term lebensraum or ‘living space’ – to suggest not only cramped living arrangements and the desire to move away to a better life; but more forcefully, the malign imperial ambitions of the Third Reich. The building menace on the continent is conveyed through Victoria’s story, though much of the chronology of the Second World War that Dickinson adds might be unnecessary – most of the events will not be a secret to readers.
Dickinson is attuned to the sensitivities felt between people and arouses sympathy in the reader across social divides – always promoting the value of education, honesty and creating opportunities for anyone to reach their full potential.
Published by Macmillan, Price £7.99