Monday, 3 May 2010
Persephone Reading Week : Review : Still missing
I have to confess that I read the book for my first review of Persephone Reading Week a fortnight ago. Next time we have a reading week we'll have to plan it so that it starts as soon as I get my hands on the latest titles - having heard about Still missing from Nicola Beauman both when I heard her speak at the Woodstock bookshop last December and when I visited the shop in January, it was a title that I was hugely intrigued to read. I put it on my pile of books to be consumed this week; less than 24 hours later, I was standing by the bookshelves with it in my hands, pretending not to be reading it. I gave in and took myself off to a coffee shop and then the Oxford Botanic Gardens to read it properly.
I was immediately gripped by the opening lines; the reader knows enough about the story to know that it involves the abduction of a small child, yet this is not referred to:
"You could hardly get to age 34 without kearning something about loss. By thirty-four you're bound to have lost your Swiss Army knife, your best friend from fourth grade, your chance to be centre forward on the starting team, your hope of the Latin prize, quite a few of your illusions, and certainly somewhere along the way, some significant love. Susan Selky had in fact recently lost an old battle, for her marriage to the man she was in love with, and with it, many ancillary dreams of more babies and of holding his hand in the dark when they were old".
The abduction of six year old Alex happens shortly after. When he does not return from school one day, his mother Susan immediately rings another mother to see if he walked home with her daughter. Susan's nightmare begins when the daughter says that Alex never arrived at school that day. She rings the police, and moments later an investigation begins. The lead detective, Menetti, reassures Susan that the majority of children do not disappear without a trace and believes it will not be long before mother and son are reunited. But the hours turn into days which turn into weeks and into months and Alex does not return...
There is a hugely poignant moment where Susan, Graham (her husband from whom she had recently separated but who becomes an integral part of her life once more as they wait for Alex's return) and the rest of the team trying to help find Alex decide that they need to refresh the poster campaign about Alex to ensure that it remains within the consciousness of anyone who might see something. Posters will take a while to be made, but Susan comes up with the idea of stamping "Still" in front of the "Missing" on the existing posters, which of course leads to the title of the book.
I won't say anymore about the story, suffice to say that I genuinely did not know what its outcome would be until I turned to the very last pages.
Originally published in 1981, this book might seem somewhat at odds with the rest of the Persephone catalogue which has a focus on the first half of the twentieth century. But it deals with many of the themes and issues familiar from the other books - the role of the mother and of family relationships and the importance of the home as the centre for existence.
It was disturbing, it was full of suspense and I was completely unable to put it down. It is one of the most gripping books that I have read this year, and I remain haunted by the way in which Susan's life changed overnight.