13 November 2018
THE THING ABOUT CLARE was my Kindle First selection for this month and, though this is completely out of my usual genre, I thought the premise sounded rather interesting. Though I do have to say I correctly guessed what "the thing about Clare" actually was before it was even introduced into the story! That being said, it didn't ruin the story for me as I do love trying to figure out what secrets are what and the fact that I often do never spoils the story. I just enjoy the journey.
This book is about family, secrets and the journey of four siblings - Miriam, Clare, Anna and Sebastian. Their parents Dorothy and Frank feature heavily in the "past" chapters, beginning with the siblings as children, in which the story unfolds over the course of their lifetime.
The story begins with Anna, the third sibling, in 2015. Their mother Dorothy has just passed away and the introductory chapter was her funeral, and as the chapter is titled, is from Anna's perspective. I found it heavy in monologue to begin with as Anna muses over her thoughts and emotions - some of which I found slightly irrelevant to the point of irritating in part - but it does give us a vivid picture of her perspective. Particularly as she recounts her mother Dorothy's request regarding the will and the letter. And you just know that, despite trying to maintain respect for her mother, she won't be able to resist reading the letter - which is addressed to Clare. I mean, could you? I could understand Anna's reasoning behind why she decided to read it - to protect Clare - but you just know it is going to blow up in her face when Clare and the others find out. So Anna then faces the conundrum of what to do. However, it's not until over halfway through the book - after the past has been revisitedup to the present as the story unfolds - do we discover that Anna actually does have the will and the letter. So of course, the reader does not learn of its contents until over halfway through.
When the story first shifts back to the past, we are transported back to 1961 and Dorothy's POV as she recounts her story as a new mum to the very demanding and painfully teething Miriam. The Dorothy we meet in the beginning is certainly a different Dorothy we meet as the years progress through the various perspectives. She is a new mum, alone with husband Frank away working, and completely unsure of her own ability as a mother. It is then we also meet their somewhat nosy neighbour Mrs Connors (whose first name escapes me now), and it is somewhat comforting to note that they remain neighbours for the next 50 odd years. Although a background character, Mrs Connors does feature a little more profoundly at the Silver Jubilee when a very unexpected and surprising event occurs - shocking everyone!
As the years go by and the story continues to unfold we meet each of the siblings and are privvy to their own private thoughts and perspectives. Clare's is somewhat tumultuous as she herself is the most colourful of the siblings. They say that there is something about the middle child and Clare crammed into that mould and promptly broke it. She was "the black sheep" and felt like she didn't belong for most of her life. It led to bad decisions and even worse lifestyle choices as she continued to drift through life, and in and out of everyone else's, for pretty much most of the duration. She was the most volatile, defensive and pretty much almost always angry. Is it just middle child syndrome or something much more? Whatever it is, it was plain to everyone that there was just something about Clare.
The story examines the relationship between the siblings and their parents, tackling the difficult times as well as the fond memories. Family dynamics are always different and can often be a minefield with each child having their own unique characteristics. THE THING ABOUT CLARE examines those as well as being a journey of discovery for everyone involved. We learn the idiosyncrasies and the personas of each of the siblings, and often during the story we find ourselves as frustrated as each of the siblings. This story is their journey and as we are privvy to their perspectives we share the journey with them.
Once the story comes full circle again to the present day in 2015, we also feel their pain and their grief after the loss of their mother. Just before we reach this point we do meet up with Anna and Dorothy in 2014, just a year previous, where we discover that Dorothy has had a stroke and is now in a care home. I found this scene a little sad as it was clear that in her 80s Dorothy was nearing the end of her life, and just that knowledge alone is saddening after a lifetime of memories. Dorothy struggles to speak but she does - enough to bestow her request of the will to her favourite child. Then fast forward a year and the siblings are at her funeral. Mrs Connors is still a fixture, with her own two cents thrown in, but the siblings decline her offer to help clear out the house.
I did find the scenes where the siblings were sorting through a lifetime of their parents' belongings and memories particularly heartbreaking. It is something I myself dread because in doing so it is with the knowledge that your parents are gone...and with them a lifetime of memories. But as one grows older, if we are lucky enough to still have our parents with us, we also are fully aware that that will not last forever and one day in the not too distant future we too will be saying our last goodbye to them too. And it was this aftermath that broke my heart the most. We journeyed with them all through the years that as the reader we too felt the pain of Dorothy's passing, as inevitable as it must be.
I did have a complaint about one flaw. I don't know where it came from or what happened to it but at one point Dorothy is ticking off a mental list of who is attending Anna's 30th birthday and she mentions "Melissa". I had to stop and think who on earth was Melissa. As she also mentioned Sebastian's new girlfriend Tessa for the first time, I admittedly thought that maybe Melissa was Anna's "partner" as the way she recounted them was as "Anna and Melissa". But there was no further mention of Melissa. She didn't attend the party, and she was never mentioned again. So I have no idea where she came from or what her role was, but to me it appeared she was a mistake since she never featured anywhere again. This error cost this wonderful story a star in my opinion, because while I can overlook many others that always pop up in ebook editions, I cannot overlook that. It was a costly mistake that in the end was irrelevant to the entire story.
Overall, THE THING ABOUT CLARE was a beautifully written drama about families - in particular, siblings - of life, love and the imperceptible bond between them. I thought it was a lovely thought provoking story, not my usual genre, but enjoyable all the same. I was unable to put it down in the end, reading well into the night.
It is unlike me to purchase a book without knowing anything about the Author or their style, but in this case I did and I am surprisingly glad. I really enjoyed the story and the journey it took me on. Definitely recommend!