They wrote it on the wall above my bed. Hello, it said, my name is May. Please talk to me.
May has been moved into a care home after her stroke. She can’t communicate, all her words are kept inside. If she tries to point, her arms swing in wild directions, if she tries to talk strange noises come out of her mouth.
May is sharp, quick, and funny, but only her daughter Jenny sees this, and Jackie, a new friend who cares enough to look and listen closely.
When May discovers that someone familiar, from long ago, is living in the room opposite hers she is haunted by scenes from her earlier life, when she was a prisoner of her husband’s unpredictable rages. Bill, the man in the opposite room seems so much like her husband, though almost a lifetime has passed, and May’s eyesight isn’t what it was.
As Bill charms his way through the nursing home, he focuses his romantic attention on Jackie, while all May can do is watch. She is determined to protect Jackie and keep herself safe, but what can she do in her vulnerable, silent state?
Thank you to HQ, NetGalley and Rosalind Stopps for the chance to read this novel in exchange for an honest review.
This book was not what I expected, but in a good way. Told in dual timelines, present-day May is sharp, witty, scathing and frustrated at the loss of her ability to speak and control her body after a stroke. Back in the late 70s young May is a woman living in fear who feels trapped in her life and too terrified to change it.
This is a book that is enjoyable but also hard to read as it tackles domestic and elder abuse in a raw and honest way. The isolation and hopelessness young May feels at a time when domestic abuse was even more hidden than today, and there was less help available, was distressing and made me thankful women in that position today have more options, even though that fear of leaving, self blame and hope things will improve is the same no matter what era you live in. Alain was a chilling character who was the perfect example of an abuser- controlling, nasty and vicious one moment and then apologetic, kind and loving the next. They put you in a tailspin and are so good at making you think you’re the one at fault or going crazy and the author did a fantastic job of showing this just how it is.
While we have all seen and heard of the appalling way some carers treat those in their charge it made it no less harrowing to read in this book. The lack of empathy and patience for such a vulnerable patient, the way they taunted her and dismissed her was sickening. Poor May would just be trying to point to something or communicate but they bully and belittle her saying she’s cantankerous and stuck up, and have no time to try and understand what she’s trying to convey. When May meets Bill her terror is palpable. You’re as sure as she is that there’s something menacing about him and all his actions seem to have an undercurrent of it. I kept willing her to find her voice again so she could unmask Bill and finally be treated as a real person by the staff.
I devoured this book in less than twenty-four hours. The tension is kept at a high throughout and the author communicates May’s feelings so vividly that you just want to reach into the book and embrace her while telling her she’s safe now. I was not prepared for that jaw-dropping conclusion. It shook me to the core and will stay with me for a long time. A gripping and touching read.