Alternative Book Club – “I Let You Go” by Clare Mackintosh

I realise it’s been a while since my first Alternative Book Club (ABC) post. It’s not that I haven’t been reading anything gripping or inspiring. In fact, I thought about the ABC when I was reading Little Women and almost put pen to paper for the Count of Monte Cristo. But both books had themes that I wasn’t that keen on discussing or elaborating on at that point in time. Religion, revenge and misanthropy aren’t currently topics I can wax lyrical about, especially as they appear to be the bones of contention in real stories (our lives) on a daily basis.

The book that inspired me to create the ABC (Wild by Cheryl Strayed) was a tough act to follow, but I’ve found a gem that I simply couldn’t put down. I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh recently kept me gripped until the last second – I read it in a day and I’m still thinking about it. Pretty good for a randomly downloaded book that I bought on a 3 for 2 book deal (it’s since been on quite a few bestseller lists). I’m currently badgering my boyfriend to read it too, so I can talk about it with someone! It seems he might be let of the hook slightly, since I’m going to talk to you guys about it.

Book cover gif from the author's website
Book cover gif from the author’s website

I don’t want to give any spoilers or take anything away from your experience of reading the book, which is really hard to do (you can read a non-spoiler synopsis here). So I’m just going to say that the book touches on themes of violence and raised some turbulent emotions within me.

The action starts off with a horrific accident resulting in the death of a child and the seeming flight of his mother, the female character. The character cannot cope with her grief and absconds to rebuild her life in a remote community. To be honest, I thought the beginning of the book was a bit mundane when I first read it. It didn’t grip me and I wasn’t that interested in the characters, because I didn’t relate to them, until we discover a little bit more about the female character as she leaves for the countryside (she is an artist, doesn’t have a partner, isn’t scared of being alone or living in a remote place, is suspicious of small kindnesses). In hindsight, the clarity with which the accident is described and the way the author draws you into these details is a stroke of genius. It allows the author to weave a web around you that is so tight you won’t really comprehend the enormity of what is happening until the final pages.

As we find out more and more about the history of the female character, I got more and more sucked in to the action and really started to care for the character. As a reader, you’re not let off easily. About half way though, I had to question my own principles and my fondness for the female character – should you like a person who has done a bad thing? What would you have done in her situation? Have you ever judged someone without knowing their full circumstances? It’s a gut-wrenching read but, like the eponymous car crash, I couldn’t look away, i.e. stop reading.

Clare Mackintosh knows what she’s writing about – she spent years working in the police force. That’s one of the things that makes the book so authentic and chilling. I’m sure there are thousands of her experiences as a policewoman and people’s realities bound up in this book. It’s what makes it such a brilliant and devastating read. I have to say that when I stepped outside for a walk between chapters, I was looking at people all around me with suspicion, evaluating their physiognomies for signs of violence, and whether they themselves could be perpetrators of violence.

Yes, everyone knows that violence is bad and you shouldn’t hurt people, but this book is so visceral it almost makes you go through it and run the gauntlet yourself. You come out a wiser and more forgiving person at the end.It made me understand how people can live with violence and are unable to shake it off, even if they are strong characters. It showed me that gradual erosion of confidence and a support network (such as friends or the community) can leave you in a desperate position. It’s also taught me to evaluate words more, rather than brushing them off, and looking behind what people mean when they make snide comments or say nasty things. Speaking can be a form of violence, you don’t need to touch someone to shatter or bruise them.

Hands down, one of the best psychological thrillers I’ve ever read. Gone Girl has nothing on this book! I don’t often think this, let alone say it, but this story (in the hands of amazing screenwriters and directors) could make for a brilliant film. Please read it so we can talk about it some more!

Have you read I Let You Go? What did you think? Are there any books you feel would make great films? If you have a favourite psychological thriller you could recommend or a book you’d like me to read for a future Alternative Book Club, I’d love to hear about it.

Read my previous Alternative Book Club post on Wild by Cheryl Strayed here. Or start by reading my thoughts behind the Alternative Book Club.

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