Published: 26th July 2018
Trigger warnings: Depression, suicide
Anna has always believed that her mother, Debbie, died 30 years ago on the night she disappeared.
But when her father gets a strange note, she realises that she’s never been told the full story of what happened that night on the cliff.
Confused and upset, Anna turns to her husband Jack – but when she finds a love letter from another woman in his wallet, she realises there’s no-one left to help her, least of all her family.
And then a body is found…
Oh dear. This book seemed to present the ideal mystery; a woman receives contact from someone purporting to be her mother, who has been missing and presumed dead since she was a baby. Sadly, that is where the excitement ends, as a story that I hoped would have me on the edge of my seat ended up falling as flat as a pancake.
I was fascinated by the blurb, but it turned out to be extremely misleading. Any feeling of tension and atmosphere is non-existent as Anna goes about trying to find her mother, Debbie, who vanished in mysterious circumstances in 1986. The writing is dense throughout, and that removes all sense of urgency.
The chapters alternate between the POV of Anna in the present day, and that of Debbie in the weeks before she went missing. Both are told in first person, and the author does a good job of conveying their respective insecurities and in particular, Debbie’s mental health struggles.
However none of the characters, with the possible exception of Debbie, are in any way interesting. Anna is a very bland protagonist, and the supporting cast have no distinguishing features whatsoever. They are lacking in depth and personality, which made me connect with the book even less.
As I said, the blurb makes the plot sound riveting. Instead, it is wafer-thin, underwhelming and – perhaps due to the writing style – I struggled to feel invested in it. In a book like this, you would expect for there to be the occasional twist, or something that makes you really take notice, but they are missing too.
My frustration with the plot was most pronounced at the end of the book. The way the ending played out was such that it made me question why I had read 350 pages in order to get there. The resolution leaves gaping questions, while there are also meaningless sub-plots involving Anna’s husband Jack.
The writing style is actually engaging in its own way, but it is just so dense. There were times where I was virtually skim-reading, trying to focus on the bits that carried some relevance. The author also makes a point of telling us which song is playing on the radio in almost every single scene.
Overall, this book was a massive disappointment. I do not often write reviews as negative as this and I certainly take no pleasure in doing so, but this book, for all of its decent portrayals of mental health, just failed on too many counts. The plot and the characters left something to be desired, and the writing was just not for me.
Just like the characters in 11 Missed Calls, Elisabeth Carpenter lives in Lancashire. This was her second novel, coming two years after her debut, 99 Red Balloons.
For 99 Red Balloons, she won a Northern Writers New Fiction Award (2016) and was longlisted for Yeovil Literary Prize (2015 & 2016) and MsLexia Women’s Novel award (2015).
This was a book I found extremely difficult to connect with, and there were a number of irredeemable flaws. Others might enjoy it, but for me it was one to put down as a disappointing 2019 read.
My rating: ⭐