Paperback (uncorrected proof copy)
Review copy provided by publisher
Harlequin Mira, September 2013
Synopsis- Jacob was time out of sync, time more perfect than it had been. He was life the way it was supposed to be all those years ago. That’s what all the Returned were.
Harold and Lucille Hargrave’s lives have been both joyful and sorrowful in the decades since their only son, Jacob, died tragically at his eighth birthday party in 1966. In their old age they’ve settled comfortably into life without him, their wounds tempered through the grace of time … Until one day Jacob mysteriously appears on their doorstep—flesh and blood, their sweet, precocious child, still eight years old.
All over the world people’s loved ones are returning from beyond. No one knows how or why this is happening, whether it’s a miracle or a sign of the end. Not even Harold and Lucille can agree on whether the boy is real or a wondrous imitation, but one thing they know for sure: he’s their son. As chaos erupts around the globe, the newly reunited Hargrave family finds itself at the center of a community on the brink of collapse, forced to navigate a mysterious new reality and a conflict that threatens to unravel the very meaning of what it is to be human.
With spare, elegant prose and searing emotional depth, award-winning poet Jason Mott explores timeless questions of faith and morality, love and responsibility. A spellbinding and stunning debut, The Returned is an unforgettable story that marks the arrival of an important new voice in contemporary fiction.
Review- The Returned is a difficult book for me to review, partly because it has been described as ‘the most anticipated novel of 2013’ and partly because it was a story with a fascinating premise and so much promise, that left me feeling quite underwhelmed.
When a copy of this book arrived for review and I read the synopsis, I must admit I wasn’t completely convinced this book would be a good fit for me anyway. Certainly, the idea of dead people returning to their loved ones sounded intriguing, but when I got to the part of the synopsis that describes the two main characters as being in their “old age” who would welcome back their son who died at the age of eight in 1966, I felt a little sceptical.
Harold and Lucille Hargrave are in their eighties (I think) when people who have once been dead begin to ‘return’ at the same age as they departed. The couple have mourned the death of their son in different ways and have strong religious views and opinions about the validity of these ‘returned’ people. So they couldn’t be more shocked when young Jacob arrives on their doorstep and walks back into their lives as though he’d never been gone. Lucille’s religious beliefs are immediately altered and she accepts Jacob’s presence with open arms. Harold however is far more resistant to suddenly becoming a father again to a boy he thought he’d never see before.
The story mainly focuses on the couple’s experience and the chaos that the Returned have bestowed upon their hometown. A government body steps in, the International Bureau of the Returned and begin to enforce limitations on the lifestyle of the Returned starting with curfews and building up to something similar to a prison war camp. The community are living in fear, both those who continue to live and those who have returned. In their anxiety, conflict breaks out and it’s not long before it’s every man for himself.
What I can say I liked about the book was the sense of place and setting. I understand that The Returned has been developed into a TV series and I think perhaps this will work much better for the story than it does in novel-form (in my opinion!). I can certainly picture the town and the Hargrave’s home, the river, the school and even the characters. I just didn’t particularly care about any of them. I felt completely disconnected from the characters, I didn’t feel any empathy for them and so I didn’t really have a vested interest in what eventuated. I feel bad saying this, but I thought Harold and Lucille were boring and I had no sense of Jacob as a real boy. I found myself gravitating to other characters in the book like the pastor and the family who were murdered. These were characters which could live up to the potential of the premise! A past lover returns from the dead, or a whole family return after they were brutally murdered… there’s an abundance of opportunities to create a story using these threads. I don’t know why the author chose to focus on Lucille and Harold. I felt the story also suffered from pacing issues.
As I said, it’s a hard book to review. When there is so much hype about a book and I just don’t connect with it, it does make me question what I’ve missed. After browsing Goodreads I can see there’s plenty of positive reviews and I hope that if synopsis appeals to you you’ll check these out for a second opinion.
“Wasn’t really for me”