First of all, here’s an extract to give you a taste of this fantastic book!
The barn feels bigger, the silence echoing around us, between us, from us. I leave Rob to bring in the emptied boxes and suitcases and go upstairs to change, pausing outside Fin’s room. The tidiness within is unsettling. ‘He hasn’t died,’ Sash had said when I’d rung her from the car. ‘He’s just gone to university.’
I pull the duvet from its cover, strip the sheet from the mattress and the pillowcases from the pillows, and although I’d intended to throw the washing straight in the laundry basket, I sit down on the empty bed, gathering the musty bedding around me to inhale Fin’s scent.
‘He hasn’t died, Jo,’ Rob says, finding me there. He’s carrying a suitcase, now lightened of its load, just a few hours ago filled with the shirts and jeans I’d ironed.
‘That was Sash’s line,’ I say, sitting up. ‘You two are so alike.’
Rob lays a hand on my shoulder, the fingers reaching my collar bone, gently pressing in. I stand and hold him for a moment, his long arms wrapping around me, his head resting on top of mine. ‘Come on,’ he says. ‘We’re both tired.’
We make love, the day edging away as we comfort one another. Afterwards, Rob rolls away from me and I know he will fall asleep immediately so I nudge his back. He turns over to face me, but I can see little of his expression; the bedroom almost entirely devoid of light, just the green glow of the numbers on his alarm clock telling me it’s almost midnight. ‘What is it?’ he asks.
‘Do you remember how we used to play that silly word game, before the kids were born?’
‘What game?’ he replies, his words slurred with impending sleep.
‘If you had a super power what would it be?’ I say through the darkness. ‘Or if you were
going to kill me how would you do it?’
‘And you’ve thought about this already?’ he asks, the moonlight seeping around the corners of the blind to pick out his creased eyes, a faint smile.
I tell him my super power would be time travel and he says he has no idea what his would be, although he’s clearly enjoying the game.
‘And you’ve decided how you’re going to kill me?’ he asks, his interest piqued.
‘I’d stab you.’ I laugh, reaching out to him, laying my hand on his bare chest. ‘With a kitchen knife.’
‘Yes, that’s good.’ He laughs too and squeezes my stabbing hand. ‘Hopefully death would be instantaneous, and we already have a knife block, so no preparation required.’
‘How would you kill me?’ I ask, leaning up on one elbow to wait for his response.
He hesitates, then says, ‘I guess I’d strangle you with my bare hands.’ Then he grabs me and pulls me to him, both of us laughing.
Warning! Make sure you have a clear few hours when you begin this book. I don’t know about other readers but I do this thing, between all the other stuff I need to do, where I’ll say “I’ll read 50 pages then I’ll hoover the bedroom” or “30 pages then I’ll make dinner”. I wouldn’t get anything else done otherwise if I didn’t set these limits.
So, when starting Close To Me a few days ago, while having a break from attempting to tame my overgrown garden, I gave myself 50 pages. Well, when I checked to see how I was doing I was stunned to find I’d just devoured almost 100! Seriously, this book’s pages turn themselves. Amanda Reynolds’ writing just flows in a gripping and compelling stream, making for a very, very readable story.
The book is told in alternating chapters of the days following Jo’s accident and the year leading up to it. It works so well, as the reader discovers what led to the breakdown of her family at the same time as Jo. You get to know Jo almost as she gets to know herself and I found I really connected to her and could relate to some of what she is experiencing in the early days before her fall. Jo is going through a time of change, her youngest child has just left home for university and she needs to redefine herself and purpose – something familiar to me as both my children begin to move on. But unlike myself, Jo is surrounded by manipulating people, taken advantage of by her husband, her kids and then others who sense her vulnerability. I loved the subtle development of her character right through the book, and by the end felt satisfied that this now strong and purposeful woman was going to be ok.
The subtle tension created in this book holds right through, with clever twists revealed at just the right moments, keeping me intrigued. Jo’s memory loss ensures that the reader is kept guessing about what really lead to the night of the accident along with Jo herself, with clues and suggestions coming in flashbacks. But with sketchy memories and some confusion, how much can we believe of Jo herself? Is her husband Rob trying to protect her or manipulate her? I couldn’t stop reading and had to know what was going on, frantically turning pages to fit in just a little bit more and ended up finishing it within a day.
Close To Me is not a heart pumping, edge of your seat thriller. The tension and twists are far more subtle than that. This is a dark story of a marriage and family gone stale, emotional abuse, manipulation and mistrust from those nearest. It’s the story of a woman loosing herself even before she looses her memory and a journey of rediscovery and redefining as she finds the strength to gain control of her life . It is compulsive, one-more-chapter reading and I highly recommend it.
(I read an advance proof copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine Program)
About The Author
Amanda Reynolds teaches Creative Writing in Cheltenham, where she lives with her family.
Her past jobs have included selling clothes online and writing murder mystery games.
Close To Me is her debut novel.
Follow Amanda on Twitter: @amandareynoldsj