If Only I Could Tell You by Hannah Beckerman

This was such a powerfully moving story, really emotional and with such beautifully written characters.

*warning, spoilers*

Every family has their secrets. But none so heartbreaking, or emotional, than Audrey’s family.
Audrey’s daughters, Jess and Lily, haven’t spoken to each other in decades. Her teenage granddaughters aren’t allowed to meet. But Audrey is running out of time, and she’s determined to solve the rift between them.
As they each delve into their past, secrets will come out, and the choice that one of them made years ago is about to come out. Can they find happiness as a family again?

This is one of those books that’s going to stay with me long after I read it. It starts with one of those chapters where you know there is a lot being unsaid or left until later, and although it hooks you in, it’s not necessarily the plot itself. The writing is simply beautiful – ‘She does not know it yet, but by the time she gets home this afternoon, the fabric of her family will have been altered irrevocably, and the morning’s events will repeat in her mind like a record stuck under the groove of a needle for the next thirty years’.

How is this not one of the most beautiful sentences? It’s one of those pieces of writing that sticks in your mind, you know exactly the feeling or event behind described, and it will affect anyone who reads it. The rest of the story continues to be written like this, with momentous parts of the book marked by gorgeous similes and metaphors that make complete sense. It’s honestly one of the most beautifully written books I’ve read in a long time.

I really enjoyed how the story flicks between the present and various moments of the past. Audrey, the mother, is a fascinating character, who clearly has stuff from her past that’s holding her back. Her decision not to have chemotherapy to treat her cancer was a difficult part of the novel to read, but I really felt like Beckerman wrote it incredibly sensitively and well. Because Audrey was balancing this with her desire to reunite her daughters, there was a real sense of urgency throughout the novel to uncover the reason for Jess and Lily’s estrangement. This didn’t take away from the story however, and instead played to it perfectly, by highlighting and enhancing the emotions of the characters.

Jess was a very defensive but caring character, protective in her own way but it was clear to the reader that she had some serious trust issues and unresolved feelings holding her back. Her relationship with her daughter was also frustrating because the reader could see how Jess was trying to push her own dreams on her daughter. Jess’ secrecy and unwillingness to trust anyone however, made her a very vulnerable character, with her pain clear to anyone whether she meant it to be or not. Beckerman wrote this character outstandingly, bringing to attention the power of childhood memories and experiences.

Lily was, in some ways, harder to read than Jess as it was clear that her marriage was breaking down and she was in denial about it and that was really hard to watch. She was also a really strong woman, as becomes clearer nearer the end, and was perhaps able to keep her emotions in check better than Jess (not that either way of coping is better or worse). Her ability to maintain patience in the face of hatred and unfriendliness was honestly astonishing, but she was also extremely vulnerable and open to pain.

The mysterious events from the past weren’t revealed until the very end, and I think this worked really well. It allowed the reader to gain a deeper understanding of the characters rather than focusing too much on the story itself and have it overshadow the characters.

Overall, I truly loved this. It was so poignant, beautifully and deeply moving, with really human and relatable characters. I would recommend this to anyone, it’s a 5 star read.

If Only I Could Tell You
Hannah Beckerman
Orion, 21st Feb 2019

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