“If she could rewind the timeline, untwist it and roll it back the other way like a ball of wool, she’d see the knots in the yarn, the warning signs. Looking at it backwards, it was obvious all along.”
Then She Was Gone is a 2017 book by Lisa Jewell, which sees a 15-year-old girl go missing just before her exams. 10 years later, her mother, Laurel, still hasn’t given up hope of finding her. But when she meets a charming stranger called Floyd in a cafe, Laurel’s breath is taken away by how much his nine-year-old daughter, Poppy, reminds her of Ellie. And now all those unanswered questions that have haunted Laurel come flooding back. What really happened to Ellie? Where did she go? And who still has secrets to hide?
Then She Was Gone isn’t your basic thriller. The premise may be around the disappearance of a teenage girl, but when some of her bones are found early on in and her disappearance is explained halfway through, the focus, instead, is on those who are left behind.
A typical thriller would drag out the investigation and unravelling of what has happened to a missing person to emphasise the darker tones of the story, but it would then rush the ending and miss out on a more emotional approach. What Then She Was Gone does is to put a fresh spin on the genre, giving away much of the mystery quiet early on. This may leave little to figure out by the second half, but it also means that it packs an emotional punch as we see the effects that the death has had on our protagonist, the mother, Laurel.
Because of this approach, detailing the grim death of Ellie early on and not giving time to reflect on her situation, her murder is pretty abrupt and, therefore, obscures any emotional connection, not giving you enough time to ‘mourn’ her character as much as you would like. For that reason, the story doesn’t have much impact at first, but it does hit much harder later on as we are, instead, faced with a murder that feels very real – murder victims are taken away from their families in an instant and there’s no time in such selfish acts to feel sympathy or remorse. We see the murder from her killer’s eyes: the act is done suddenly and then walked away from. It is this discourteous quality that I feel connects with the book’s title. One minute, they are there; the next, they are gone.
Without the time to feel connected to Ellie’s character, you are left with a very detached feeling whilst reading the final few chapters of this book, but Jewell did write a much happier ending at first. However, it just doesn’t have the same effect. I would have felt more comfortable with an ending like this, putting the book down with a hopeful smile on my face, but I would have also been left underwhelmed. Instead, with the much sadder ending, I cried at how horrible this situation was for Laurel because of how real it felt.
Then She Was Gone is an easy read and it has enough originality to it to make it worth reading. It has an interesting premise with a lot going on, but the way that the story unfolds does make the twists predictable and the plot lack any tension. I wouldn’t particularly say that it is hard-hitting, but it does have some disturbing qualities to it and is a little darker than you would expect.