Survivor’s guilt, revenge, memory tricks, childhood friendship and rivalry are at the centre of this family drama. In A Life Between Us by Louise Walters, forty-something Tina visits the grave of twin sister Meg each week and holds conversations with her. Tina has buried a secret so deep even her husband doesn’t know it. Only one other person was there when Meg died, the twins’ Aunt Lucia. But this is a complicated family with so many stories of betrayal, flight, lies, secrets and denials that until the end I was waiting for someone else to appear as a witness.
The first half was a slow-burn and I longed to get to the first turning point of the story, which when it came was not a surprise. This slow-burn means this is not a psychological thriller but a study of the long-term effects on children violently bereaved, survivor guilt, misplaced memory and grief. We are told the story via multiple viewpoints: Tina, then and now; Tina’s childhood letters; Tina’s husband Keaton who loves his wife but struggles to cope with her depression and guilt; and Aunt Lucia, then and now. For me, this was too many viewpoints and too many characters, making it rather involved and at times repetitive. Walters’ story involves a large family and perhaps the story would be stronger with less siblings. Certainly the absent Robert and jailbird Ambrose added little to Tina’s story, and her parents are virtually invisible. The device of Tina’s childhood letters to cousin Elizabeth in California became repetitive and irritating, it is so difficult to write in the voice of a child. I also found myself sympathising with Aunt Lucia who is portrayed as something of a harridan in a dysfunctional family, though she too has experienced difficult times which she has kept secret.
An at times long-winded story which, at its heart, explores something deep, difficult and sensitive.
Read my review of Walters’ first novel, Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase.
‘A Life Between Us’ by Louise Walters [UK: Matador] Buy now
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