Thursday, 29 August 2013

Guest Book Review: Henriette Gyland - The Elephant Girl

Reviewed by Danielle Pullen

Peek-a-boo I see you ...

When five-year-old Helen Stephens witnesses her mother's murder, her whole world comes crumbling down. Rejected by her extended family, Helen is handed over to child services and learns to trust no-one but herself. Twenty years later, her mother's killer is let out of jail, and Helen swears vengeance.

Jason Moody runs a halfway house, desperate to distance himself from his father's gangster dealings. But when Helen shows up on his doorstep, he decides to dig into her past, and risks upsetting some very dangerous people.

As Helen begins to question what really happened to her mother, Jason is determined to protect her. But Helen is getting too close to someone who'll stop at nothing to keep the truth hidden ...

Helen is witness to an incident that results in her mother’s murder.  Due to medical complications, she does not see who commits the murder but the scene and its intricate  detail have haunted her adult life.  After her mother’s death (and the subsequent imprisonment of her mother’s killer), Helen is placed in care, despite having several family
members alive. 

Fast forward twenty years and Helen leads a rather relaxed existence working in a bar in Goa.  However, a visit from a solicitor acting on behalf of an elderly relative informs Helen that her mother’s murderer has now been released.  Revenge becomes Helen’s prime motivation.

As the narrative evolves, however, the situation turns out not to be as simple as it first seems.  Was Helen’s mother’s true killer ever really found?  Has the perpetrator been imprisoned? Why wasn’t Helen looked after by her family after her mother’s death?  Will she be able to resolve these issues if she returns to her childhood home?

Henriette Gyland’s novel begins with a bang.  The opening scene left me gobsmacked.  So vivid are the descriptions and turn of events that the final sentence of the prologue hits you like a punch in the stomach.  However, in many ways, I found the opening pages of this text to be at odds with the more relaxed pace and caricature-characters of the remaining story.  Helen, without doubt, is a strongly drawn but her aunts and their associates felt rather two-dimensional and almost as if they’d been borrowed from a Martina Cole book.  Similarly, Gyland tries to portray some of the hierarchical positions of the characters by giving them a particular accent.  This was reminiscent of Dickens or Shakespeare but, in modern writing, this made the dialogue jar and feel rather stereotypical.

The Elephant Girl is an interesting novel spanning over twenty years, peeling away the layers of lies in one family’s history.  At its core, I felt as if it was experiencing an identity crisis. Should it be a crime thriller, a saga or a piece of contemporary fiction?  For me, it didn’t convince as any of these but, as a stand-alone novel, I did want to keep turning the pages until I reached the conclusion.

I'd like to thank Choc Lit for sending us a copy of this book to review and Danielle for reviewing it for me. Amazon links: Paperback or Kindle

1 comment: