Anne Worthington’s debut novel The Unheard takes us through three key moments in Tom Pullan’s life, the reverse chronology of which making what is an already deeply affecting story all the more impactful.
Tom Pullan knows that the people who visit him are trying to tell him something, but he cannot remember what.
He knows the faces in his memory, the ones he loved, are not the ones around him now.
Anne Worthington’s book opens in 1999 where we meet her main character, Tom Pullan, who is trying to make sense of what is happening to him and his wife. May Pullan gives much-needed context to his confusion and why it seems compounded by current events. I found both characters’ perspectives interesting but Tom’s provided a good insight into how he sees the world, together with how he interprets what’s going on, and it was incredibly useful to encounter this now. I thought it would be difficult to read at this time but you handled it beautifully. So, thank you for that, Anne.
The characters’ experiences illustrate how memories form and fade or fall away; the intense feelings and strong emotions we attach to them; how often they can shape and even inform our lives; and, perhaps most importantly, how we live with more difficult memories, those we feel unable or reluctant to share with others for whatever reason.
In the second part, which is set in Britain in 1984, we hear from Tom and Maggie. (Happily, not the incumbent prime minister of the time, although she does feature, but Tom’s teenage daughter who shares the same name.) This was the hardest section of all for me because Tom suffers from additional stress and strain on top of some pre-existing trauma and confusion. How he attempts to rationalise this to himself is heartbreaking and it was hard to watch him spiral within his own construct of supposed ‘coping’ mechanisms, while also seeing his daughter becoming increasingly untethered, with neither able to realise that the other was struggling or being capable of asking for help.
Finally, Anne Worthington takes us back to 1931, where Tom is a young boy, and we discover how nebulous and complicated, but also fraught with emotion, some memories are even when they’re first being formed. Confusion sometimes reigns from very early on in the life of a memory and it’s not only later in life that we might have trouble retrieving it or attributing it to its proper time and place and order.
Anne Worthington takes these critical moments in our lives that (either wholly or in part) are left unexplained, misinterpreted or misunderstood, showing how stress or trauma can impact upon our ability to process them or even allow us to communicate how we’re feeling to our loved ones, who otherwise might have been able to help and support us through them and reduce the damaging effect experiencing them has on us.
The Unheard shows how elusive memory is, how it shifts and alters under external pressures, sometimes burying itself deep within us. Anne Worthington excavates this for us with her arresting storytelling, satisfying in what it leaves out and trusting the reader to make those connections which Tom and his own family fail to find. It’s a deceptively slight novel but one which packs a real punch. Anne Worthington makes incredibly effective use of reverse chronology to tell Tom’s story which evoked strong emotions in this reader. She also challenged my perspective on memory and how it works, or fails us, throughout life.
Anne Worthington has created a potent and incredibly moving story about memory and the attached emotional baggage we carry with us throughout our lives. I devoured The Unheard and loved how it changed my perceptions. It’s a book I’ll return to and am sure will stay with me. Highly recommend checking it out.
The Unheard by Anne Worthington is published by Confingo Publishing as a Paperback Original and is available now from Confingo’s website: The Unheard by Anne Worthington | confingo (confingopublishing.uk)
Anne Worthington is a documentary photographer and writer who grew up in Blackpool in the Northwest of England before moving to Manchester. The Unheard won her the 2018 Michael Schmidt Prize. You can follow her on Instagram or over on Twitter.
My thanks to Helen Richardson for sending me a review copy and inviting me to take part in the blog tour: