The Gone and the Forgotten by Clare Whitfield – an island setting for exploring family secrets by a confused young woman

The Gone and the Forgotten by Claire Whitfield

Life on a tiny island can be challenging enough for anyone, but for a confused sixteen year old in 1993 it is especially confusing. Prue has been told she must join her aunt Ruth on Noost, just off the mainland of Shetland after her mother tries to end her life. Prue’s only plan in joining her artist relative and her largely unknown husband Archie is to discover the truth about her family. When she arrives in the tiny community and atmospheric family home she discovers that the truth can be elusive and even dangerous. 

This is a terrifically atmospheric book, full of the reality of life on a very small island with extreme weather. There are very few people who live there, including the mysterious and charismatic Archie, and the decidedly eccentric Ronnie. The house is a wonder, large and complex, with hidden corners and seemingly overrun with indoor plants which seem to grow on every surface and round every corner. Anxious as ever to fit in, to do as she is asked, Prue gets involved in a house which seems to conceal many secrets. The great mystery is the fate of the missing Evelyn or Evie from twenty years before; a decided lack of suspects makes some in the community look to Archie as the guilty party. Secrets seem to echo around the big house as accusations fly and some struggle to cope. Prue tries to fit in perhaps more than she realises with the extreme characters, especially with encouragement and memories of her more worldly wise friend Subo, and makes decisions that she would never have foreseen. 

Beneath the dramatic events on the island and the challenges Prue faces is her almost instinctive truth about her parentage. She has long dreamt of a father who will sweep into her life and rescue her from her sad and repressive mother, but between her, Ruth and her late Nana she can get no answer to her question. She experiences nightmares on the island which cannot all be explained by the alcohol she is persuaded to consume. 

This is a book of searching, trying to discover the truth amid layers of secrets and perhaps lies. It contains some amazing characters, including the unhappy family of the missing Evie, and the well intentioned James. Ronnie is a confusing and extravagant character, quite a creation within a book of remarkable people. The setting is well described, with the cut off feeling of island life, seemingly largely uninterrupted by outside influences. There are plenty of references to the plants, landscape and life on the island, yet the central narrative revolves around the largely bewildered Prue, her memories and her concerns for her present. It is a vividly written book, memorable for the descriptions of the people, place and events.

I found it a largely enthralling book written in a flowing style consistent with the place where Prue finds herself. There is a certain amount of violence and realism which is blended in with the questions that Prue feels she has come to answer. There is a great deal of honesty in this novel, realism and themes that challenge. Family secrets, the truth of what is happening and what has happened in the past are well blended into the story. This is a very enjoyable book which I felt drawn into, keen to discover what would happen next, and what Prue will discover. It is a book with great depth and plenty of action, even when the decisions that Prue makes are dubious. I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book, and particularly enjoyed the island setting.    


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