A rather long-winded review! lol
This is a story with a very British flavour…
Beneath The Surface by Fiona Neill is about family with so many secrets, you never quite know what is going to pop up to haunt them next. What starts as an unusual find for ten year old Mia; a pregnancy test that shows positive, opens up a whole chasm of questions. Why did her older sister get rid of a baby she didn’t want, when her auntie and uncle are trying so hard to make a baby of their own?
Sworn to secrecy, Mia is overcome with curiosity and well, kids being kids deal with things their own way. Especially when what they’ve been told is not exactly the truth. All these lies and secrets are just bubbling away beneath the surface, which, as you may have spotted, is an apt title for this book.
The mother Grace has a very sad upbringing, and when you discover why, you’ll be forgiven if you found this neurotic and overbearing mum a bit annoying at first. She has her reasons. As the story unravels you’ll see how scared she is of history repeating itself, and why she is the way she is. What if human behaviour is controlled by the subconscious and we are no more than our history, a blend of everything we have experienced, touched, seen and smelt throughout our lives? What if Grace’s life goes round, full circle – because it is in fact inevitable?
Even though this story sounds quite full on, the subject matter is dealt with really well, and sometimes a kind of dark humour creeps in. It’s subtle, but it’s there. Particularly with Mia and her down to earth way of explaining things, when all the adults around her are making everything so much more complicated when left to their own devices! Luckily, Mia is there to step in and sort everyone out.
I’ll be honest, the main reason I picked up this book is that the author, Fiona Neill, likes to write about my home town and areas that I know well… Well, it’s not that often people want to write Cambridge, UK into their books! Don’t judge me lol,. I mean, there’s plenty for those living in NYC or London, but not in Cambridgeshire. I also have to admit, this made a very good book even better for me. I love it when I can say, I know that school, that road, that pub! I was already heavily invested in this story and the super plot, so it goes without saying that feeling so familiar with the setting, I really felt like I was there among the chaos of Vermuyden family life. And boy, were they keeping secrets from each other.
In addition, I really liked how there were several interesting facts and Anglo Saxon legends woven into the pages of this book, for example, when Lilly had a seizure her little sister Mia , (a wonderful character I loved) was sure she’d caught the Ague, (Marsh Fever) which dates back from when the Fens were still marshland. Why has it come up now? Because the body of a dead girl and her baby have been unearthed at a traveller site where her best friend Tas lives, and she thinks the spirit of the girl has been disturbed and is out to wreck havoc on her family, because of the baby her sister got rid of. If she can get them to believe this is true, then maybe Tas won’t have to move away from the burial site, and things can stay as they are. Her only friend (other than her eel) won’t have to leave her. Incidentally, when the eel was released I felt so sorry for Mia and the injustice she felt about it all. She was such an endearing character. My heart went out to her.
Then there’s the topic of fake news, and how Catriona’s husband works for a news organisation that specialises in spreading anti-climate-change propaganda. Is the water supply contaminated by pollution form the new wind farm out on Black Fen? Or is there another reason Lily had her seizure? It all ties in so nicely together.
Unwanted pregnancies, unwanted travellers, anti-climate propaganda, a failing school system, an Anglo Saxon obsession, a captive (in a bucket) Eel called Elvis — (take a breath) it’s all here! After a slow start the story suddenly throws the characters in all directions. I felt as anxious as they were to see how things resolved for them. Beneath the surface of what this plot is about there’s an undercurrent of how the secrets of the past may already have your life mapped out for you, even if you are determined that this will not be the case. Riveting, true to life and so beautifully written.
‘A rich, dark and satisfying read about the complexities of modern family life. I adored it’ Jane Fallon
After a chaotic childhood, Grace Vermuyden is determined her own daughters will fulfil the dreams denied to her.
Lilly is everyone’s golden girl, the popular, clever daughter she never had to worry about. So when she mysteriously collapses in class, Grace’s carefully ordered world begins to unravel.
Dark rumours swirl around their tight-knit community as everyone comes up with their own theories about what happened.
Consumed with paranoia, and faced with increasing evidence that Lilly has been leading a secret life, Grace starts to search for clues.
But left to her own devices, ten-year-old Mia develops some wild theories of her own that have unforeseen and devastating consequences for the people she loves most.
Beneath the Surface explores the weight of the past upon the present, the burden of keeping secrets and what happens when children get caught in the undercurrents of adult relationships.
‘Neill describes human dysfunction with such compelling empathy . . . richly tense and deeply satisfying. I didn’t want to finish!’ Hilary Boyd, author of The Anniversary
‘With her trademark dark humour and incisive observations of family life, Neill takes the reader on a fascinating, moving and intelligent journey to the truth’ Gillian McAllister, bestselling author of No Further Questions
‘Beautifully told with great suspense’ Rachel Hore, bestselling author of The Memory Garden
‘The perfect read to lose yourself in on holiday this summer’ Isabelle Broom, Woman & Home Reading Room
Praise for Fiona Neill:
‘A novel made for heated book club debates’ Stylist
‘Vivid and insightful’ Guardian
‘No one writes about modern family with more truth or authenticity than Fiona Neill’ Lisa Jewell