Book Review: A Life Between Us by Louise Walters #ALifeBetweenUs
If, as I did, you really enjoyed Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase, you’ll be happy to know that Louise Walters’ second book is out now. (And if you’ve yet to discover her, I’ll happily add to your TBR.) Here’s what the so very aptly-titled A Life Between Us is about:
Tina’s sister Meg died in a childhood accident, but for almost forty years Tina has secretly blamed herself for her twin’s death. During a visit to her Uncle Edward and his sister Lucia, who both harbour dark secrets of their own, Tina makes a discovery that forces her to question her memories of the day Meg died.
As Tina finds the courage to face the past, she unravels the mysteries of her estranged parents, her beautiful Aunt Simone, the fading, compassionate Uncle Edward, and above all, the cold, bitter Aunt Lucia, whose spectral presence casts a long shadow over them all.
Louise Walters’ novel shows to devastating effect how traumatic events in early childhood and adolescence can impact on someone: how with the right help, we might learn to cope, but without, they may colour the rest of our lives. While Tina can’t remember everything that happened on the day Meg died, it’s continued to haunt her, as has Meg, ever since. It’s also having such a damaging impact that her present state of mind and the future of her marriage are both in jeopardy.
If you believe in the bonds that tie us to loved ones, let alone the special connection which exists between twins, you’ll have little problem with the fact that Tina still talks to her dead twin, Meg. On a regular basis. It’s less a haunting than a continued need within Tina to have as a sounding board her sister, the only person who’s ever understood her properly. Meg was always the more confident and less fearless of the two, and it’s no wonder that Tina still looks to her sister for guidance and support beyond the grave. Tina’s husband tries but he’s distracted at work and his patience is wearing thin; more and more he simply urges her to seek professional help. And she finds precious little help elsewhere, though that may be changing thanks to the tentative beginnings of a new friendship.
In order to understand the adult, it helps to know the child that came before and Louise Walters cleverly helps us do so by including letters Tina writes to a pen pal, her cousin Elizabeth in America. It’s fascinating to read about events from young Tina’s perspective and see the truths only children can, while also wincing at how badly she misreads or misunderstands other situations.
A Life Between Us is very much Tina’s story: she has to revisit a painful event in her past in order to understand what really happened, and whether or not she was at fault, before attempting to move on. But there’s someone else’s story here too and it’s no less sad or distressing. Indeed, it goes a long way towards explaining why Lucia is the way she is but stops short of answering all the questions her character raises. And while she may well appear as one of the least sympathetic characters in the novel, I couldn’t help but feel for her. What she goes through, with minimal support or discussion, she then has to keep secret for the rest of her life. I can only begin to imagine how hard that was and what it would have meant to internalise it over that length of time. It’s all the more poignant when you think how her life could have looked considerably different, been considerably improved, had she been born only a generation later.
Just as in Louise Walters’ debut, Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase, the narrative switches between past and present timelines. In A Life Between Us, the narrative focussing on Tina and Lucia’s stories covers periods in 1954, 1963-1964, 1967, 1975-1976 and 2013-2014. And once again, just as in Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase, letters play an important role (as outlined above), an aspect of both novels which particularly appealed to me. Here, too, there’s a house which seems as much a character as the people who live in it or come to visit. In fact, some of those people, particularly the brothers besides Edward, were less distinct and it was sometimes hard for me to keep in mind which one was which. However, Louise Walters’ second novel has at its heart a twisted, yet intriguing Aunt Lucia and a relatable, if at times frustrating, main character in Tina, who I positively willed on to unravel the family secrets, unlock her own trauma caught up in the tangle of them, and come through it all able to move on with her life.
A Life Between Us is a moving and quietly powerful story of trauma experienced early in life and the ripple effects of that; of love and loss and guilt; of family secrets; of the power of friendship; of the kindness of a person who not only listens and helps but also guides you towards recovery. Above all, A Life Between Us is about exactly that: it’s the difference between she who survives, and those left behind, in life and death.
A Life Between Us by Louise Walters is available as an ebook and in paperback. You can buy the paperback direct from Louise Walters Books or Troubadour Publishing and Amazon UK. If you prefer to read ebooks, it’s available in this format from Amazon UK, Google Play or iBooks. (Clicking on any of the links will take you to the book’s page for that retailer.) If you’d like to know more about Louise and her books, visit her Author Website, find her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter or on Instagram.
My thanks to the author for sending me a review copy of her book.