This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Reviewed by Kay Brooks
Over ten years have passed since Alice Metcalf disappeared, leaving her three-year-old daughter, Jenna, behind. The events of that tragic night have never been clear, not even to Detective Stanhope, who was in charge of the investigation. Jenna has read her mother’s journals repeatedly looking for clues that might help them be reunited, but to no avail. Now, unable to get answers from her mentally ill father or grandma, who remains firmly in denial, Jenna enlists the help of a reluctant Detective Stanhope and a jaded psychic with a catalogue of problems of her own. Together the trio are determined to find out the truth once and for all. What really happened to Alice Metcalf?
Having read many of Picoult’s previous novels, I tried to approach this one with an open mind. Her earlier novels left me feeling excited I had found a new author that could really intrigue me but, after reading a few more, I realised they all followed pretty much the same pattern. Maybe having left a huge gap between reading her material made a difference but I found Leaving Time very refreshing.
The story is told in first-person, alternating between Jenna, Alice and Virgil Stanhope, allowing the reader access to the events, which led them to the point they are at now. All three are grieving for something and seem to need each other in order to move forwards. They are all typical ‘Picoult characters’: easy to like, forgive for their mistakes and empathise with.As promised by the cover, the story is absolutely gripping, though admittedly slow to get moving. There are insights into the spiritual world of mediums and the sometimes-unjust world of police homicide investigation. Also, both of Jenna’s parents have spent their lives working closely with elephants, studying their behaviour. Alice, before having Jenna, was particularly interested in the way elephants process grief, documenting how long they stay with bodies and how many times they revisit them before being able to move on. Many of the anecdotes are fascinating. Jenna was also raised, until her mother’s disappearance, at an elephant sanctuary. Here the elephants have been treated badly in the past and so are prone to aggression. This intricately created background served to make a more interesting read.
Admittedly, there are areas of the storyline that I was nonplussed by and had to read again just to ensure that I understood the implications of what I had read, the ending being one of these areas. The actual twist though is even more surprising than expected.
A dramatic exploration of life and death, and the area in between.