In her latest novel Skeletons, British author Jane Fallon highlights a subject that we can all relate to: secrets. She explores the far-reaching impact they have, as much on the lives of those who know them as those who don’t, and begs the question “is it really better to know?”
Jen Masterson grew up an only child in a single parent home and a big family was all she ever dreamed of. So, marrying into Jason’s family, having her own children, and being able to spend spare time with the Masterson clan was Jen’s dream come true. Even when her and Jason’s youngest heads off to university, life is still perfect, in spite of Jen and Jason coming to terms with a new way of life now that it’s just them and there is nobody to look after.
Then, when Jen discovers a secret – a secret she was never meant to know – her perfect world is turned on its head, and her picture of the ideal family is ruined. Will Jen be able to keep what she knows to herself without upsetting the rest of her husband’s family? How does she move past this newfound information and go back to how things were? What should she do when “the secret” starts calling her for help and support?
I truly sympathised with Jen. She inadvertently found herself in an awful predicament, caught in the middle of a lie that, just because she had found out, she was now party to. As Skeletons’ protagonist, and for this story to work, it was vital that readers could easily connect with Jen and feel her angst as she tries to shoulder her incredible burden. While there were times I felt frustrated with Jen, and questioned some of her choices (especially about her own family), ultimately I did sympathise with her quandary.
Regarding the book’s other characters, Fallon portrays a warm, colourful collection of individuals in Jason’s family members, all loveable and interesting in their own ways. Against the rather depressing contrast of Jen’s own family – her mother – it is clear to see why Jen was so drawn to Jason’s family. That said, I did find myself feeling disappointed at the Jen’s lack of involvement and avoidance of her mother. After all, for someone so family oriented, wouldn’t they act with more compassion for their own blood?
While Fallon is clearly a confident and experienced writer, one with a knack for putting relevant observations and complex situations to paper, there were a few elements of Skeletons that didn’t work so well for me. I found the pace dragged around the middle of the book, and it began to feel like maybe some of the prose at this time was superfluous, and that the book could have been cut a bit. But, once I got over this hump, the book picked up again and smoothly carried me through to the (rather surprising ending).
Another aspect of the prose that I found a bit awkward – particularly early on in the book – was Fallon’s use of very long sentences broken up with numerous sub-clauses. While I enjoy this technique (even using it to keep my own writing varied), Fallon often positioned these sentences in between pieces of dialogue. By the time I had finished reading them, I had to go back to remind myself of what a character had said before I could pick up the dialogue again, thus breaking my flow.
While this novel may not stand out particularly, Skeletons remains an interesting look at family dynamics, relationships, and the impact of secrets. An experienced writer, I hope to see a little more from Fallon next time, but in the meantime this book will make a good, light, long weekend read.