I’m always intrigued when a plot that has been done before—many times before, until it’s almost a cliché—can come across fresh and new, especially without adding a ridiculous, far-fetched element (e.g., alien abduction, taken prisoner by the house, etc.). Such is the case with Jane Shemilt’s Daughter.
There’s nothing new about a child-gone-missing plot, or the ensuing tunnel vision obsession of a shocked and grieving mother. Nothing new about a story of oblivious parents who don’t seem to comprehend the dynamics playing out under their perfectly shingled roof. Nothing new about plot where what first appears to be an idyllic family life is, layer by onion-peeled layer, revealed as not so perfect after all. Nothing new about a story of discovering the people you are closest to are not exactly who you thought they were. Nor is there anything new about teenagers with secrets.
Daughter is all this without falling into the trap of being predictable (or at least not boringly so). It manages, despite these used—or perhaps overused—themes, to maintain interest through a complex combination of empathy and morbid fascination. The action alternates between the time of the disappearance and the aftermath a year later. Shemilt does this masterfully, weaving the roller coaster of emotion and tension through the series of events that answer some questions and raise others.
Though I don’t agree, as some reviews claim, that this is a psychological thriller matching the suspense of Gillian Flynn, it is a book that made me look forward to my self-indulgent reading time in order to chip away at the simple, yet compelling, question of what happened? Gripping? Yes, but in a gentle and firm way, rather than an aggressive and overbearing way. It’s not the wild white-water raft ride though fast and turbulent raging waters, but more a smoothly seductive glide across vaguely ominous trenches.
Without revealing the answer to that question and spoiling the journey, I will say that the “mystery” unfolds realistically with respect to both context and emotional content. The plot is believable and yet surprising, the characters, a realistic portrayal of naive and complex. You pity them, you have contempt for them and yet you have plenty of unsettling that-could-be-me moments that make them real people and make you question your own assumptions about your own perfectly crafted world.
While working as a GP, Jane Shemilt completed a postgraduate diploma in Creative Writing at Bristol University and went on to study for the MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa. She was shortlisted for the Janklow and Nesbit award and the Lucy Cavendish fiction prize for Daughter, her first novel.