A welcome change of pace from Jodi Picoult (4 stars)
Source- personal copy
Published by Hodder and Stoughton- 4th November 2014
I read the hardback edition which is 416 pages
A book by Jodi Picoult is always such a treat. She is also the only author I make a guaranteed exception for in purchasing her novels in hardback, immediately upon their release. I bought this book on Saturday morning, started it in the afternoon and had finished it by the Saturday evening. Another one-sitting read for me, which is admittedly usually the case with this writer. I did want to ponder it however, for a few days before I reviewed it as this is something of a departure from her previous novels- though a welcome one at that, at least in my opinion. The reviews have been somewhat mixed online, though it is perhaps easy to see why.
To date, most of Jodi’s novels have been somewhat (and I hate to use this word) formulaic- with a court case centred on a big family drama. Barring a couple of exceptions there has also been some sort of moral dilemma at their core to really provoke discussion and thought. This book is indeed very different with some suspense and mystery elements that have left some fans feeling a bit surprised.
Leaving Time is the sort of novel that is also best picking up without knowing too much about it, if I’m honest, so I will try my best not to let slip any spoilers here. Filled with Jodi’s trademark beautiful prose, atmospheric descriptions and convincing dialogue, it is a story about mothers and daughters and also about healing. A mystery novel, it is the tale of thirteen-year-old Jenna, whose scientist mother Alice disappeared in strange circumstances when Jenna was three, seemingly without a trace.
Jenna’s memories of her mother are clouded and the rest of her family are unwilling or unable to provide her with the answers she seeks- but she does understand that her mother loved her and wouldn’t have left her for no reason. Desperate for answers, she hires a psychic and a private investigator to finally uncover the truth. What she will uncover will change her life forever…
Somewhat unusually for me when it comes to a Jodi novel, I didn’t especially connect with many of the characters in this book, with the possible exceptions of Jenna, and her newly-employed psychic, Serenity. I also found Alice’s one-track mind very frustrating. This may be why I found Jenna’s ‘voice’ to be incredibly distinctive and realistic and felt that it carried the whole storyline. I felt empathy for her loss and wanted her to succeed in her quest to find out what happened to her mother. She was a memorable, likeable character. The book also took me a little while to settle into, at least four or five chapters before I felt it really got going and we had encountered all of the main players in the story.
Leaving Time is told through multiple points of view, that of Alice, Jenna, Serenity and private investigator, Virgil. I do like this device when it is used well and it really worked here. We get to know Alice and understand her research and witness her fall in love with Jenna’s father. We also comprehend Serenity and Virgil’s backgrounds and why they become so personally invested in this case- for them it manifests as an opportunity for redemption and making up for past mistakes, though they too come to care about Jenna. I think, knowing what she has been through, it is difficult not to.
I feel that for me, the one weak aspect to this story was an issue that a lot of other readers have commented on- and that was all of the information about elephants. And jeez, is there a lot of it! I love animals, I really do, but I found that there was just such a wealth of information about them and their behaviour that it sort of bogged down the main storyline. This was similar to what I felt in reading Lone Wolf from this author, too, though I enjoyed the book nonetheless. The research here is really meticulous and I get that there is symbolism in the way the elephant mother grieves which mirrors Alice’s own life, but it grew slightly dull and even repetitive after a while.
The ending of this book absolutely took me by surprise. Maybe I should have seen it coming, but I didn’t and I’m just fine with that. It worked and left me thinking about it for ages afterwards. I think as a consequence, this book warrants a re-read, just to see if I pick up on some of the nuances and subtleties that I didn’t the first time around. Thinking back, there were indeed a lot of clues dropped.
Jodi Picoult will continue to be an auto-buy for me. Though this isn’t my favourite novel by her, she is yet to disappoint me and I continue to truly love her books. Though I wouldn’t recommend Leaving Time to everyone, it is sure to appeal to fans of contemporary mystery fiction that enjoy a slightly paranormal-suspense element to their reading.
Some other books by Jodi Picoult: