Book Review: An Unknown Woman by Jane Davis

An Unknown Woman

Genre: Literary Fiction, Contemporary Fiction

We like to think we’re more than the material stuff we own. But, honestly, if we lost all our belongings, from the contents of that odds-and-ends drawer in the kitchen, to our most precious heirlooms in a house fire, along with the loss of our home, wouldn’t that be up there as one of the most awful experiences we could suffer? And wouldn’t it affect more than just our material world?

And it’s this theme of loss that Jane Davis explores in this novel.

Her starting point is a devastating house fire in which her characters, Anita and Ed, lose everything they own.

They’re a married couple in their forties, living in Surrey and commuting to their respective jobs in London. Childless by choice, they seem, on the face of it, to have a good life. But when their house burns down it’s not just their possessions they’re stripped of. All aspects of their life are laid bare.

The narrative sees Anita and Ed question everything about their lives and to realise that they may not want the same things after all.

The story is told mainly from Anita’s point of view but significant parts of it are also related through the eyes of Anita’s parents, Ron and Patti, who’re dealing with identity issues of their own. And Ed’s voice comes through too.

The story builds slowly, and along with the exploration of identity, the issues of maternal instinct, post-natal depression, family bonds and marital fidelity are also in the mix. And through it all there’s the question of how we see ourselves and how others see us, and of what it is that makes us who we are.

And the literary element of the story is beautifully overlaid with the warmth and vibrancy that comes from well-fleshed out and sympathetic characters. As a reader you care about the characters. There’s a credibility and authenticity to their story, to their hopes and fears.

Davis has a light touch. She writes with subtlety and nuance. And she does that most important of things, something many writers of literary fiction fail to do, she tells a good story.

Type of Read: Good one for holiday reading, when you can really indulge yourself with great writing, a glass of red and some dark chocolate.

An Unknown Woman is published by Rossdale Print Productions and is available as a paperback and as an e-book.

 

Back Cover Blurb:

If we are what we own, who are we when we own nothing?

Look in the mirror and ask yourself a question. Who are you? Do you know the answer?

At the age of forty-six, Anita Hall knows exactly who she is. She has lived with partner Ed for fifteen years and is proud of the life they’ve built. They go out into the world separately: Ed with one eye on the future in the world of finance; Anita with one foot in the past, a curator at Hampton Court Palace. This is the life she has chosen – choices unavailable to her mother’s generation – her dream job, equal partnership, free of children, living in a quirky old house she adores. She is happy. Their foundations are solid and their future seems secure.

That was before the fire.

Anita stands in the middle of the road watching her home and everything inside it burn to the ground. She and Ed have nothing more than the clothes on their backs. Fifteen years of memories gone up in smoke.

Before she can come to terms with the magnitude of her loss, hairline cracks begin to appear in her perfect relationship.

And returning to her childhood home in search of comfort, she stumbles upon the secret her mother has kept hidden, a taboo so unspeakable it can only be written down.

The reflection in the mirror may look the same. But everything has changed. She thought she knew who she was. But not any more.

Authentic and heartbreaking, this intoxicating new novel by award-winner Jane Davis is an exploration of identity, not as a fixed point, but as something fragile, shape-shifting and transient.

The reflection in the mirror may look the same. But everything has changed.

Themes: Not Just for Literary Fiction

image via shutterstock
                            image via shutterstock

 

A Fictional Hierarchy    

There seems to be a consensus which says that literary fiction is first and foremost about themes and that commercial fiction has character, plot and setting at the forefront. There also seems to be an apparent hierarchy to the above elements of fiction which places themes above the other three. And this gives rise to a belief that literary fiction, by concentrating mainly on theme, is written by more intelligent authors for more intelligent readers.

An Artificial Divide

But I’ve never really got the divide between literary and commercial fiction. It seems artificial and rather snobbish to me. As a reader I’m looking for a good read and I’ve found great books on both the alleged sides. And, as an author of contemporary fiction, I don’t sit down to write a literary or a commercial book. I set out to write a book.

Basic Story Writing Includes Themes

image copyright Suriya KK via shutterstock.com.

When I was a primary school teacher, teaching my pupils how to write stories, I highlighted all four ingredients: character, plot, setting and theme. I didn’t see one of those elements as more important or requiring more intelligence to develop. And as a professional writer, I still don’t.

What became obvious with my pupils was that everyone differed in their preferred element for getting their story started. Some loved to start with a character and that was what led everything else. Others preferred setting and so on. And there were some who were just plain inspired by whatever.

But what they were all aiming for was to write a good story and to impress their teacher.

And in my own writing, the same four elements are equally crucial when I’m creating a story. I play around with them all in my novels. For me, it’s usually a character who comes first and then, as I get to know that character, the setting and plot suggest themselves and the themes just appear.

But like my pupils, my overall aim is to write a good story that will impress my readers.

 

My Themes

book covers 011

However, although I don’t set out first and foremost to address a particular theme, like I said, themes do appear and they become integral to the whole.

In Change of Life, the characters must deal with the themes of marriage, family life, secrets and mortality as their stories play out. In Displacement it is bereavement, belonging and relationships, as well as the politics of war that drive the plot. And in my children’s novel, The Silver Locket, the story of the three main characters’ time travelling mission deals with friendship, bullying, the loss of a parent, and increasing independence from adults.

And in my work-in-progress, Settlement, which is the sequel to Displacement, the themes are commitment, purpose, love and the politics of peace.

And Finally

There is also, in my adult fiction, an over-riding theme, and that is – there is life after the age of 45. All the main themes of life persist into middle-age and beyond. Life is as messy, interesting, frustrating and wonderful at 60 as it is at 20.

Whether this insight in particular, or my use of theme in general in my writing makes me a literary type author, I’ve no idea and doesn’t particularly concern me. But I hope I do produce a good read.

What themes do you most like to read or write about? And do you differentiate between literary and commercial fiction? Please do leave your comments below.