One of the main symptoms of being a true book addict is finding books in your collection and not having a clue how they got there. Similarly, you may remember acquiring a book but have no idea what possessed you to pick it up in the first place. This has happened to me with These Things Hidden. I can see that I originally came by this novel through ReadItSwapIt but cannot for the life of me remember why I wanted it. It has been sitting on my shelf untouched for months, while the book snob in me sniffed at its cover and blurb, thinking of it as some kind of poor man's Jodi Picoult. I don't even know what finally pushed me into picking it up last week. Maybe part of me wanted to read a few pages and have my worst suspicions confirmed, so that I could throw it back on the swap pile. However, I'm really happy to say that These Things Hidden has proved me wrong.
Allison Glenn was imprisoned at a frighteningly young age for a deeply disturbing crime. These Things Hidden opens as she is released from jail early for good behaviour, and has to return to the life and community she left behind. The story focuses on four women - Allison, her sister Brynn, and two of their neighbours, Charm and Claire. Each chapter is told from a different person's point of view and each of the four plot strands slowly bind together, unearthing skeletons from different closets and building to a dramatic climax.
OK, so I wasn't proved completely wrong. This is no literary masterpiece. I have to admit that some of the four characters are rather sketchily drawn. Allison and Brynn's chapters are both narrated in the first person, and unfortunately neither of their voices are that strong or distinctive - on a couple of occasions I found myself flicking back to the beginning of the chaper to remind myself of who was actually speaking. The ladies aren't particularly dislikeable but at the same time I felt they lacked that spark that makes you really feel for them. There is nothing especially pretty or clever about the prose, but it isn't bad.
I also had a bit of a grumble with the way Gudenkauf treats the subject of mental illness in her characters. It's difficult to explain exactly why without including spoilers, though. Firstly, I don't think it's giving too much away to say that Allison's crime was committed when she was going through a bit of a traumatic time in her personal life - things had gone on that would shake anyone's psyche to the core. The book gives the impression that she is simply packed off to jail without undergoing any sort of psychiatric assessment or receiving any support. All the doctors or police she encounters treat her in a really horrendous 'sick bitch/psycho!' kind of way, and I like to think that society has come a bit further than that. There's more, though - other characters have their own problems with mental illness and this is alluded to with various degrees of clumsiness ranging from constant references to 'take your tablets' right through to extreme heavy-handed stereotypical depictions of psychosis.
Don't you love it, though, when a book is so much better than the sum of its parts? If there's one thing Heather Gudenkauf does really well, it is spinning a cracking good yarn. I whizzed through this book, finishing it in a day - and that was a working day, so you can appreciate that I really did grab every available moment to get through this. I literally couldn't put it down. Through my lunch break, while cooking the dinner, staying up way past my bedtime, you name it. The plot is perfectly weaved and every chapter ends with just a hint of intrigue to keep you wanting more. The final twist was one of those perfect endings where on one hand I didn't have a clue what was coming until the very last moment, but on the other hand I was kicking myself for being so blind because all the evidence had been carefully laid out throughout the book. It takes so much skill for an author to keep just enough back so that the finale has this kind of impact.
I would definitely recommend this one if you're looking for a light but engrossing read. Fair enough, it's not going to win any literary awards. But it is a quick, easy read and is genuinely entertaining. I really enjoyed it.