My first question on receiving this review copy was why is it being re-printed (with a new cover and branding) after it was published first in 1999? But Forsyth is a well established author and also on the Editorial Team at Sandstone Press, whose fans will be familiar with her take on families.
It hasn’t dated but the cover image is distracting as readers may expect a crime thriller. I am going to suggest a new category for this style of work. Slow suspense.
We may already be familiar with the slow food campaign and I am also a fan of Slow Radio (with a great slot on Radio 4 on Sundays BH programme covering everything from steam pipes to birdsong).
We begin in the past (34 years precisely) to the day the eldest of a small group of children who are enjoying a summer on the coast of Scotland when all are traumatised by the disappearance of Lindsay Mathieson, the confident and careless 13 year old of the group who walks across the beach and goes out of sight for ever.
Because after the first 10 pages of the fallout around Lindsay’s disappearance it goes straight out of sight, and if readers are now expecting to unravel suspects and clues in a fast-paced thriller, they have a long wait for answers. Lindsay’s brother Alastair, had been left in charge, but his chaotic life continues into adulthood through marriage, divorce and bad fatherhood as he seeks solace from his guilt in a powerful job. Annie, one of the cousins and friends, is stuck in life, seeking motherhood and alienating her husband Graham. Tom, the nerdy book lover has stayed in the area holding onto the house in which the past is only a short conversation away from tragedy. Jamie, the vulnerable boy recovering from cancer needs support it seems all the time.
Into this regretful scenario comes Rob, Alastair’s son who suddenly turns up at Annie’s house. He’s a teenager who says little but commands the motherly love and attention that for so long he’d been denied and Annie quickly fills this role.
In another writer’s hands the small details of family life can seem mundane. I love Anne Enright and her ability to seek out from the chaotic challenges of Irish families a resolution to what is really troubling the individuals. Forsyth is nearing this ability, although I felt it took some time to settle the reader into what direction we were heading. There are some surprises, again delicately placed. This is not a tale of big fights and secrets exposed but the slow peeling away of layers. Forsyth also writes beautifully of the location in Scotland, particularly nature and bird life which fly into the sight and minds of the character as the site near the beach begins, once again, to draw them back to the original tragedy.
Can I also mention Forsyth’s deft touch with the sex scenes. Always tricky, I felt she gave a subtle but erotic slant to something that can often end in a fumbling disaster on the page!
I wasn’t sure if I would like this novel, but it grew on me in a slow but sure manner. The revelation about the truth seemed almost an aside at the end and I think that is what the novel succeeds in achieving – although some readers may be disappointed at the anti-climax. Lindsays’ presence is forever with those closely involved but doesn’t dominate. As with many tragedies – life does unfortunately carry on. Love, hate, relationships, boring stuff – all still happens. It is only in the memories and moments of time that bring back the main incident that its major effect can be seen to balance out the many years that have elapsed since the day of certain ‘nothing will ever be the same after this.’
An author with experience and a deft touch. I may try further offerings and enjoyed it as a personal read. Book clubs will have much to discuss with this subject matter of wider family dynamics. Just work past the front cover and take things slowly!
Philipa Coughlan 4/4*
Waiting for Lindsay by Moira Forsyth
978-1-9122-4095-1 Sandstone Press Ltd Paperback 26th March 2020