Eleven year old Elly is missing; only her bicycle is left behind on the side of the road. After an extensive police search that dries up after many months, the family left behind must find a way of moving forward.
Four years later a dishevelled teenager is found in Denmark. And she returns to the family as Elly. But is she?
A missing child is a nightmare for any family. The family, mother, father and older sister are dealing with grief and loss, confusion and upheaval brought about by the disappearance of Elly. And the family has to again reorientate itself when the damaged shell of teenage Elly is returned to their family.
We are taken through a whole series of perspectives. We start at the outer edge of the mystery as Almut, a young girl in hospital describes being befriended by Ines who is clearly psychologically disturbed by her sister’s disappearance and who tries to recreate her as Elly. The internal voices of sister Ines, the mother Judith, father Hamid, and the girl who returns as Elly take us closer to the heart of the mystery. And eventually, finally the last voice of this sequence is that of Elly.
This is a brief novel by usual standards, and has a theatrical feel as it opens with a dream Ines has, setting up this story like a stage play with the people mere figures in a landscape. The novel continues with short chapters, and each one requires attentive reading as each one reorientates to a different character’s voice. This realignment with the perspective adds to the sense of dislocation, confusion and isolation and loneliness. The clear and often matter-of–fact voices as well as the translation from German do not prevent the pain and guilt from seeping out between the lines.
The actual mystery of what has happened to Elly and the plausibility or otherwise of the events are not the whole of this novel. It is the inner voices of the individual characters, their reactions and responses to this detonation in the heart of the family that carry the weight for me and their attempts to make sense of this sudden, inexplicable hole, this gaping wound in their lives.
Haunting and unsettling, there is a nightmare quality to this tragic novel, which has stayed with me and keeps coming back to me long after I read the final page. Quick to read but long-lasting in its reverberations in my mind.
Reviewer: Clare Lyon