Mary O’Connor has been keeping a vigil for her first love for the past seven years.
Every evening without fail, Mary arrives at Ealing Broadway station and sets herself up among the commuters. In her hands she holds a sign bearing the words: ‘Come Home Jim.’
Call her mad, call her a nuisance, call her a drain on society – Mary isn’t going anywhere. That is, until an unexpected call turns her world on its head. In spite of all her efforts, Mary can no longer find the strength to hold herself together. She must finally face what happened all those years ago, and answer the question – where on earth is Jim?
As the book begins with an introduction to Mary and her routine, there is a sense of unease in the curiousness surrounding her story. Flashbacks of her life with Jim add to the mystery of his disappearance.
Even though Mary is struggling, she decides to volunteer at NightLine, a local crisis call-centre, for two nights a week, in the hope it will give her a future to cling on to, even if by the weakest of threads. Surrounded by a small team which includes Olive—a retired chiropracter, Kit—a twenty something computer wiz, and Ted—the CEO and Manager, Mary keeps herself immersed in work. There isn’t much to look forward to at this grossly underfunded set-up except, perhaps, the weekly Sunday-afternoon strolls with Ted whose wife died two years ago and youngest child went off to university the previous year.
After Mary has an outburst at the station one evening, where she is unknowingly caught on video holding up her sign, she meets Alice. Worried that Mary might need help, Alice offers to buy her a drink. They start talking and Mary ends up telling her about Jim and the disturbing call she received at the call-centre. Alice is intrigued. She is on the verge of being laid-off from the Ealing Bugle, where she works as a Junior Reporter, unless she can deliver a great front page story. Alice believes she has found the subject of that story in Mary and, on Mary’s suggestion, decides to volunteer at Nightline as a means to pursue it. There, she befriends Kit and together they set off to uncover what happened to Jim.
“When she spoke again, it seemed that her voice was loud enough, firm enough, to carry right down to the sea. ‘I will always be your safe place to come home to.'”
Abbie Greaves has a knack for writing unusual tales of love and loss that tug at your heart. In The Silent Treatment, her debut novel, she picked apart a marriage in the long, unending silence of a husband and wife. Here, she explores the social stigma pertaining to male mental health.
As Alice and Kit follow the clues to Jim’s disappearance, they begin to realise how Mary’s version of events appear to be completely different from reality. Is she truly unaware or, in fact, hiding something? Or is she simply in denial of the truth?
“The unknown isn’t always the worst thing in the world. Not when the truth can crush you.”
The stigma surrounding mental health has a long battle to fight but within that remains the even more disturbing statistic for men who are up to three times less likely to seek help. Mary and Jim’s story of a precious, imperfectly perfect life shared together picks apart the challenges men face in treating depression and its impact on families and communities.
Greaves tells a compelling story replete with the thrill of suspense and the pull of a once-in-a-lifetime love. She draws you in with her evocative writing and rolling plot twists that keep the narrative moving, giving it a foot-tapping tempo.
Insightful and poignant, I find it hard to be done with this novel. It continues to play on my mind like a heartbeat steadily rising to the point it leaves you absolutely breathless.
Book 15 of 2021.
Aquamarine Flavours Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟.
Available on Amazon*.
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