Monday 14 September 2015

Something Only We Know by Kate Long

There are five members of our family: Mum, Dad, my sister Helen and me. And then there’s Helen’s anorexia.

Published by Simon and Schuster in August 2015
Pages - 448

Sometimes a secret is too big to hide.
Jen is a trainee journalist working on Chester’s local paper, dreaming of something bigger. Her sister, Helen, is beautiful but damaged, and hides a secret that has affected the whole family, one they cannot escape but one she is trying to move on from.
As Helen learns to become a whole person once again, her family struggles with the past, and how they will move forward together. And Jen realises that the one person she needs to help her through is the one person she cannot have – Helen’s boyfriend, Ned…

Reviewed by Sophie Duffy

As a novelist who writes about family life, I always look forward to Kate Long’s novels. And her latest, Something Only We Know, is a belter. It’s about a family who are on the edge, waiting for the fallout of the older daughter’s anorexia some years earlier. Is Helen getting ill again? Is she eating? Is she lying? These are all questions that Helen’s younger sister, Jen has to keep asking herself. Meanwhile, the family tiptoe around each other in ways that reflect their weaknesses and agendas. The family dynamics are so complex but Long dramatises the relationships and reveals her characters with subtlety, empathy and a deftness of touch. 

Jen, the younger sister, is the narrator of the novel. She’s in her early 20s, a trainee journalist on a local paper, still living at home as her job does not pay. Jen is so well-drawn I felt I could completely inhabit her head, that I could understand her frustrations and struggles – though her political activist boyfriend (who doesn’t want a proper job) is far too good for her. 

Helen also lives at home, despite being 30. She has been over-protected by her mother who constantly fears she will slip back into the eating disorder of her teenage years which were dark times for everyone. Helen has built herself a complex set of rules and rituals of day-to-day living to which the rest of the family must comply. 

Something Only We Know is written with great sensitivity and emotion. As always, Long’s characters are multi-layered and totally believable. You get cross with them but you also cheer them on. The story with its ups and downs is ultimately one of hope and love. I heartily recommend this one.

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