The Unfinished Journals of Elizabeth D

Last month I got chatting to lots of other book bloggers, as part of my second ever read-a-long. We all read Nichole Bernier’s The Unfinished Journals of Elizabeth D (Allen and Unwin) and discussed it over three weeks in August.

The read-a-long was once again hosted by Bree of All The Books I Can Read. You can check out what the other bloggers had to say about the book, on her blog.

The book is intriguing from the outset, and very sad…

Before there were blogs, there were journals. And in them we’d write as we really were, not as we wanted to appear. But there comes a day when journals outlive us. And with them, our secrets.

Summer vacation with her family was supposed to be a restorative time for Kate, who’d lost her close friend Elizabeth in a plane crash. But when she inherits a trunk of Elizabeth’s journals, they reveal a woman far different than the cheerful wife and mother thought she knew.

The complicated portrait of Elizabeth – her upbringing, her marriage, and journey to motherhood – makes Kate question not just their friendship, but her own deepest beliefs about loyalty and honesty at a moment of uncertainty in her own marriage. When an unfamiliar man’s name appears in Elizabeth’s pages, Kate realises the extent of what she didn’t know about her best friend, including where she was really going when she died.

I’d say that there are two quite distinct themes in Bernier’s novel. The first is that of internal conflict and second, the notion of who you are versus who you seem to be. Both of these themes make for an incredibly moving story, one that really gets to the heart of what it is to be a woman living a suburban, matrimonial and maternal life.

From the beginning of the story we are cast inside the anxious mind of Kate:

“The sun was strong, glinting off the bridge and hitting the river like shattering glass. Drivers traveling in both directions were shielding their eyes, staring as she was down the length of Manhattan. She didn’t know what any of them expected to see. Mushroom clouds? Skywriting in Arabic? She wished for some visible sign of drama where the towers had once stood. Then she looked towards Queens, even though it was impossible to see the site from this distance. Few people were even looking anymore, though she always would.”

We ask Kate’s questions with her; Why had Elizabeth trusted her with a life-time of personal journals? How well had she really known Elizabeth? How well did she really know anyone? What danger lurked around any given corner, a potential threat to herself, her husband, her children? The tension and anxiety is inescapable…

We’re also thrust, via her journals, into the secret world of Elizabeth D, who it would seem for years had been hiding a grieving, conflicted self behind the smile and charm of a suburban housewife. Nothing that Kate had assumed to be true about Elizabeth, both before or after her death seemed to be entirely accurate. It’s a gripping journey.

Interestingly, despite the introspect nature of both these narratives, the story itself avoids being insular. The reader is still offered an incredible sense of place, Bernier painting an atmospheric picture of New York, Washington and Kate’s small holiday island. Kate’s pre-kids professional was as a pastry chef and the descriptions of kitchens and food, bakeries and desserts is positively mouthwatering.

I was completely drawn into The Unfinished Journals of Elizabeth D and as you might expect, it had me asking one single question… what would I want done with my journals, should the unthinkable happen? For the record, I think a bonfire might be in order, but as we find out from this novel, some people seem to take comfort in the idea that their true self might be revealed to others, after they’ve gone.

Do you keep a journal? What would you have your loved ones do with it, once you were no longer around?

Buy your own copy of The Unfinished Journals of Elizabeth D at the TBYL Store


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