We Know You Know by Erin Kelly – Review
By Sandra Callard
We Know You Know is the latest novel from Erin Kelly, the best-selling author of the unusual, the chilling and the unexpected. She strikes again with this shattering story containing twists that I guarantee you will never see coming.
The story opens in 2018 then seesaws backwards and forwards through 1988, 1958 and back again to 2018. This should be confusing and annoying, but the narrative moves with such a compulsive stealth and clarity that the story holds the reader’s attention with astonishing ease. In fact it is part of the appeal that each of the four Parts to the book opens in a different age and necessitates some effort on the part of the reader to tie down the story and the characters to the differing times. This is not a toil but rather a short exercise in attention, and the time factor is soon revealed, right on cue and brilliantly executed.
Nazareth Mental Hospital is a dilapidated and outdated institution on the outskirts of a small village that has been the main source of local employment for years. An eminent MP, Baroness Helen Greenlaw, is instrumental in closing Nazareth down, to the wrath of local workers.
The story covers the intervention of two young people, Marianne and Jesse, who come across evidence in the deserted building that could discredit Helen Greenshaw. Their intrusion in this matter starts a rollercoaster of events which span the years and affect lives in an unexpected and traumatic way.
This is the bare bones of a paralysing and horrific drama that has monumental repercussions for everyone involved. The drama of the story is intertwined with the mental responses of the characters, which are in no way solely clinical, but expose emotions and actions that readers can empathise with, in spite of the horrors which unfold.
“Grips from the start”
We have sympathy with the dilemmas of Marianne and Jesse, horrific though they may be, and we eventually perceive an understanding of Helen’s cold and apparently uncaring approach to life. We unexpectedly have a glimmering that, under different circumstances, would we react in a similar way?
Kelly’s writing is superb. Her plotting is exquisite. It never lingers too long on any one scene and is constantly moving, taxing the mind to keep up with the action, and flowing so beautifully that this is never a problem.
The spectre of Nazareth Asylum broods over the entire book, and the sections covering the treatments which were authentically used over past years stand out as barbaric. It is a brave choice of the writer to include these themes, shocking as they may be, especially as there may still be readers who would personally remember them by repute, or even by experience. But the scenes are needed to understand the actions of the characters, and are necessarily shocking but never gratuitous.
This is a book that grips from the start and I read it easily and thrillingly over two days. I loved the way that the characters matured over the years, yet still retained the shreds of individuality that mark a person. Helen is an outstanding personality. She is clever and hateful on introduction, and whilst we may not love her, we do at least understand the reasons for the formation of her character.
This is not a book with cardboard characters, they are all alive on the pages and as clear as daylight in the imagination. A compulsive read, a superb story beautifully written, and a necessity on your bookshelf. Look out for Kelly’s next one.
‘We Know You Know’ by Erin Kelly is published by Hodder & Stoughton, £7.99 paperback – out July 9