When I saw the opportunity to review Sharon Guskin’s novel through Mumsnet Book Club. I grasped it and was delighted to be chosen.
The book was sent to me for free direct from the publisher. The opinions about this book are entirely my own.
They say to ‘never judge a book by its cover’ but as I held the hardback brand new book in my hand and looked at the cover. My initial thoughts were that it oozed mystery. From reading the back of the book and the blurb it was clear that there was no giving away the mystery to unfold. Therefore, I too do not want to plot spoil. That is after all the suspense and you will discover for yourself as you rush to turn the pages.
However, let me share a section that does sum up the entire theme of the book:
‘You Only Live Once. That’s what people said, as if life really mattered because it happened only one time. But what if it was the other way around? What if what you did mattered more because life happened again and again, consequences unfolding across centuries and continents?’ (p.334, The Forgetting Time, Sharon Guskin)
A thought provoking novel with a strong theme, I believe that the intricate details and powerful language could be compared in some ways to ‘The Lovely Bones’ by Alice Sebold. The book contains mystery, insight and poetic language which changes pace depending upon the mood and the character. Yet this is no copy, this is a work of fiction that is unique as it explores the factual claims from life and case studies about what’s behind us and what is ahead of us. Those factual claims are factual research from Dr’s who have studied throughout their lives, their findings can be found in the following two factual books containing many case studies:
- Life Before Life: Children’s Memories of Previous Lives
- Return to Life: Extraordinary Cases of Children who remember Past Lives
The facts from the case studies are beautifully interwoven at the start of many of the chapters, more so as the story evolves. It is evident that Sharon Guskin has been strongly inspired by the subject and thus created such a powerful debut novel.
The facts and the research creates a sound sense of realism and grounding to a subject which could be deemed as far fetched and entirely fantasy. Upon completing this novel you won’t just go away with a sense of fulfilment from reading a good story but you will go away feeling like you’ve become enlightened with possibilities, it really brings the imagination alive. So many times while reading the novel my brain felt like popping candy, fizzy, in awe and amazed. I feel as though I’m coming away with a subject that I would definitely like to read more about.
And what makes the novel so successful?
It’s an easy read in the sense you can go away and come back to it easily – that’s partly down to structure and we will come back to that shortly. You can connect to the characters, it’s insightful, very deep with the subject choice and yet it is educated due to the evident research. This for me was a huge appeal, it ticks so many boxes. It is a book that will linger with me for a long time. I don’t read many books twice but this will be one of them that I do. I will be very surprised if this doesn’t come out in film. It is that thought provoking that I could see it on the stage.
From the blurb you will see that the story is focussed around Noah and his exasperated mother. Noah is different to the other children, he appears to have too much knowledge for a boy his own age and there is much he understands that he shouldn’t understand. He also doesn’t like taking baths, not through awkwardness but through fear, he has genuine fear and a feeling of loss – as the reader you want to wrap him up in a cozy blanket. He wants to go home. His mum can’t understand it as he is home. As a mother myself I really felt for his mum as Noah through his own fear pushes her towards feeling second best. The mother shows so much bravery as she helps not only her own son confront fear but explores something which is deemed as an impossibility and something which she doesn’t believe possible, in turn she confronts her own fear as do many of the other characters. You cannot do anything but applaud Noah’s mother and also the Dr that helps them both.
I’m not giving too much away by saying that though this is Noah’s story, that it is not told by him but through the eyes of the adults around him. I believe that as he is a four year old child and due to the nature of the theme of the story that this format adds to the success of how the book is told. By being told by adults it does make the story more believable than a child who could be fantasising, plus it allows the story unfold – Noah knows the story, the adults need to solve the mystery. Therefore we the readers get to solve the mystery too.
So that we hear the different view points, the book is told in third person. Third person narrative often has disadvantage of creating distance but the structure of the book prevents this. We gain the closeness of first person narration due to each chapter in the book centring on a character. We get to hear the voices from each character. This gives such a lovely ‘patchwork quilt’ effect as we piece or stitch together the connections. It allows the story to be shown and not told and that is the page turner. We constantly want to know more, we want to get to the resolution and reach the end. However, be warned once you get to the end you will then feel the sadness that you’ve reached that point, almost as though you wished the book could go on forever.
As somebody who has studied Creative Writing I adore the structure of the book and I could talk about it for hours. We gain so much empathy as we see the character connections to Noah, we learn their story and their motives from themselves. Without hearing all sides we would lose so much understanding from the other characters. I found that learning the motives behind the other characters and that it not just centring on one person’s story, we gained depth behind the novel. And our emotions as readers were put to the test as we feel sorry for characters who if we didn’t hear their side we certainly wouldn’t hear it the same through another character. This is such a successful tactic. We can also think just how many other stories could come out from that one novel – personally I would love to hear more.
Overall a moving novel and one of the best that I have read in a long time. A journey of not just one boy and his lost soul but the repercussions of finding out the truth to those around him. A satisfying novel that leaves us asking questions about what we may deem as the impossible.
Is there life before life?
This book is available at the hardcover price of £12.99.
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Happy reading ‘The Forgetting Time’ you won’t regret it.