“Second novels are notoriously tricky beasts,” writes Hannah Beckerman at the end of her new book. Yet she was perfectly able to tame hers.
When I first picked up If Only I Could Tell You, I couldn’t foresee the emotional journey I was about to dive into. While I expected a clichéd romance, I devoured it in only two days, desperate for answers from the mysterious prologue.
Beckerman does a fantastic job at maintaining suspense throughout the novel. Slowly revealing new information by going back and forth between the past and the present, and helping to give more colour and a better understanding of the very different personalities of the three main characters.
Jess and Lily are sisters, but haven’t talked since the summer of 1988. Jess witnessed something she wasn’t supposed to and pledged not to have any contact with her sister. For the last 30 years, mother Audrey has powerlessly watched her family fall apart, with occasional failed attempts to reconcile her daughters.
But now that she has been diagnosed with cancer, her time ticking away, she is more determined than ever to unveil memories from the past and the untold secret that destroyed their family. All in hope of bringing the family back together.
The author’s clever use of a third point of view, rotating between the three women, means she can reconnect the pieces of the puzzle throughout the book. Beckerman capably portrays the complexity of the unravelling family dynamics. She shows, through well executed techniques, the different perspectives of a mother and her daughters in an almost all-women novel. This is also allows her to showcase the strengths and reasons lying behind all three characters.
One minor criticism would be the repetitiveness of certain scenes. Many highlighted memories from the past are unnecessary to the development of the story, interfering with the flow of the narrative. This kind of approach would have worked really well for a movie script, rather than a written piece.
Because of the themes explored and the style chosen by Beckerman, through which she presents an in-depth understanding of emotions, If Only I Could Tell You could be compared to Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper. Beckerman gives an unforgettable exploration of human flaws, sufferances, forgiveness and of how long it takes for grief to heal. Her second novel is a captivating read, filled with valuable life lessons.
Despite falling into some clichés of the romance genre, this book is so much more than that. As it progresses, it explores different aspects of love. It will leave you with convoluted ethical questions, wondering how far you would go for love.
If Only I Could Tell You by Hannah Beckerman is published by Orion, £14.99