Ravine is eighteen years old and has been in bed for the past ten years with chronic pain. Her mum cares for her and tries to keep pushing her forward, but Ravine feels stuck and hopeless. Ten years ago, Ravine had a best friend, Marianne, she did everything with. But then Marianne disappeared…
This isn’t a book for me. The writing style had a few beautiful moments but was mostly just okay. Throughout the book it also teases about Something Happening in the past with a reveal at the end, which is a pretty common ‘page-turning’ device that wasn’t done in an interesting or new way, so it was just kind of annoying (aside: the structure of All The Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld is probably the best take I’ve seen on this). I did like the way she wrote about the council estate and the community there, and many of her characters are richly drawn and engaging.
The reason I requested this from the publisher is that the main character has chronic pain. Chronic, invisible, illnesses are so rarely represented in literature, particularly within main characters, and I’m always keen to find good representation (I don’t have chronic pain but have other health shenanigans). This started well. The way Snaith described living with chronic pain/illness as a kind of living deathbed (‘lifebed’) felt spot on-
Imagine sinking into your bed every day for nearly eleven years. You wake up. You go to the toilet. You collapse back into bed and sail off. Except you don’t sail anywhere because some bastard has moored you to a pole. You float in your sea of pain, hoping someone will come and hack the rope to pieces and set you free. They never do.
But then, very early in the book, she spontaneously recovers. Completely. For some people, chronic pain or illness is related to psychological trauma (there is less of a Cartesian split between mind and body than many, including medicine, think), and this seems to be the case for Ravine and I don’t have an issue with that. But she hadn’t faced or worked through her trauma in any way before it had an effect on her pain; she just thought about maybe writing about what happened, and then went from excruciating pain most of the day to absolutely nothing, before she’d even written/thought through it. It doesn’t make any sense. It made Ravine’s chronic pain feel like an ill-thought-out plot device to place her where she needed to be physically, and as a lazily done ‘physical pain representing mental pain’. In fact I read somewhere that Snaith had originally planned for Ravine to be in coma, but it didn’t work so replaced the coma with pain. I think she must have done some research / spoken to someone with chronic illness to describe it well early on, but then either ignored it or didn’t go further in order to make her plot points work. It’s kind of disappointing.
A book that probably wouldn’t be completely my thing anyway, but that also doesn’t represent chronic pain all that well in the end. Two stars.
The Things We Thought We Knew is out on 15th June 2017.
I received a free copy from Doubleday in exchange for an honest review.