‘There is what I remember and of this, though a few things remain, much is lost.’
Much is lost indeed. Ten years ago Rachel embarked on an affair with a man at work, which spiralled out of control and left her and her life in pieces. Now, writing at the window of her flat, still single, she tries to put those pieces back together.
Signs of Life by Anna Raverat is, for me, one of the best debuts of the first half of this year. It is an intense, smart, elegant book that brilliantly contemplates how we grapple with guilt, anger, truth and blame in the aftermath of failed relationships. It explores the destructive power of a love affair—how easily we can invite the wrong people into our lives and how distorted and isolated life can be inside the bubble of an obsessive relationship, the people we hurt along the way and the people who in turn damage us.
Rachel struggles throughout the novel to reconcile what happened and the story is told through her flashbacks and snatches of memories. She refers to her notebooks from the time to help tell her side of the story: ‘More scrapbooks than journals, my notebooks are like pockets for things I want to keep’. They also bring to the surface intriguing fragments of poetry and literature for the reader to explore and piece together. Some readers find the narrator Rachel unsympathetic but I think she is one of the most believable, finely drawn and compelling characters I’ve read for some time. We have a lot to learn from Rachel, even if it can never be the whole truth about what happened with her lover Carl.
Signs of Life would be the perfect novel to pick up during the uninterrupted, luxury space provided by holiday reading. The way the tension builds as shocking events are quietly hinted at and then fully revealed is almost thriller-like, making it the kind of book to read compulsively, when there are no other demands on your time. You’ll also want plenty of time to ponder Rachel’s story long after you’ve finished reading.
Sadly, as this is Anna Raverat’s first novel, you can’t then delve into a backlist of further reading, but Anna has been appearing at literature events and festivals so if you see her name, do seek out her one of her live readings – they are a real treat. I can’t wait to read what comes next from her; she’s a writer well worth watching.