I’ve been a staunch fan of Clare Mackintosh’s work ever since reading the fantastic “I let you go” back in 2016. Such a fan that I will automatically read anything she writes. That being said, I would probably not have picked this one up if I had done any research into the title first. Don’t get me wrong, this was a beautifully written and deserving book. It is just that – for me – the subject matter was a little too raw, it hit too close to home. I struggled with reading it as I had to keep putting it down to regain my composure. I have had many personal experiences with sick children in intensive care. First my daughter, then most recently my little grandson. This made the descriptions in this novel have an almost visceral impact on me. The sounds of the bleeping monitors, the antiseptic smells, were all just too recent for me as I spent a good portion of last month experiencing them first hand.
The novel brought the raw emotions of the parents of sick children to the forefront. Also, very cleverly, it explored what might happen after the end. The parents in this novel are devoted to each other and to their young son, Dylan, who is diagnosed with medulloblastoma. When, after surgery, he is deemed by the hospital to have such a poor quality of life that it would be better to let him go, the mother agrees. The little boy’s father does not. This differing of opinions puts a mortal rift in their relationship and puts them in the public eye when their case goes to court.
“Turns out you can hate what someone’s doing, yet still love them so much it hurts.”
The book explores what happens to the family in the future if the hospital and the mother win the court case. Also, in alternate chapters, it explores what happens to the family if the father wins the court case.
I was riveted to the book for the first half – while Dylan was still alive. After the court case decision – after the end – the novel was not as compelling for me. That being said, it was very cleverly written and was very thought-provoking. “What If” is a question that we’ve all asked ourselves at one time or another. In this case, the ‘what if’ had much more serious ramifications that most personal dilemmas. This was an impossible decision to have to make. Hard to make, yet even harder to live with after making it. Second-guessing is not easy when the life of someone you love hangs in the balance.
The characters were fully fleshed out. In addition to the parents, Pip and Max Adams, I particularly liked the character of the doctor, Leila Khalili. The author made her seem like the kind of doctor I’d want for my children. She was hard-working, devoted, and empathetic. She was also fallible – as all physicians are… We learn a little of her work ethics, her home life with her visiting Iranian mother, also her loneliness.
The description and writing were top notch. The subject matter was such that some might have difficulty with it. Sadly Claire Mackintosh herself lost a child. I personally commend her courage to write this novel, turning her own experience into an eye opening read which must have brought her pain and hopefully was cathartic at the same time.
Exploring themes of hope, despair, grief, and regret, this novel will tug your heart-strings and make you think. It will cause you to realize just how fragile life is, and to hopefully cherish those you love whenever you get the opportunity. It shows how you must choose to put painful experiences behind you. How, though you’ll never forget the person you’ve lost, there are other people and experiences ahead for you and you must grab them with both hands. You must choose to live again. A remarkable and poignant novel.
Clare Mackintosh is an author, feature writer and columnist. She has written for The Guardian, Sainsbury’s Magazine, The Green Parent, and many other national publications, and is a columnist for Cotswold Life and Writing Magazine.
Clare spent twelve years in the police force, working on CID, in custody and as a public order commander, and has drawn on her experiences for her psychological thrillers. She left the police in 2011 to work as a freelance journalist and social media consultant, and now writes full time. Clare’s debut novel, I Let You Go, was a Sunday Times top ten bestseller for 12 weeks, and was the fastest selling title by a new crime writer in 2015. It was selected for both the Richard and Judy Book Club and ITV’s Loose Women’s ‘Loose Books’, and has been translated into more than 30 languages. It has sold more than a million copies worldwide. In July 2016 Clare received the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year award, and won the Cognac Prix du Polar for International Novel of the Year that autumn. She lives in North Wales with her husband and their three children.
Follow Clare Mackintosh on Twitter.