If I Knew You Were Going To Be That Beautiful I Never Would Have Let You Go by Judy Chicurel

My grateful thanks to Georgina Moore (@PublicityBooks) for generously providing this text.

It took me a while to get used to the rhythm of this story, told in the first person by Katie, an 18 year old living in Long Island in the summer of 1972. Set in a time of decay and depression in the town, against the backdrop of the Vietnam War all the characters are struggling to find happiness and peace; whether through love, sex, drugs, relationships or alcohol. There are some very big themes explored through Katie’s eyes from abortion and homophobia to post traumatic stress disorder, but these themes are skilfully woven into the story in a way that makes them integral to our understanding of the time in which ‘If I Knew You Were Going To Be That Beautiful I Never Would Have Let You Go’ is set.

Initially, I found the frequent use of expletives jarring, but as I read on I became used to which characters spoke in which way and their language choices actually made them more real to me.

Once I attuned to the structure of introducing characters and events and weaving them into Katie’s experiences and her memories, the narrative seemed to build and build like classical music, almost hypnotising the reader into its cadences. The further I read, the more engrossed I became.

The descriptions are vivid and evocative, giving a clear mental image of the setting. At times the writing was so beautiful and insightful I had to jot down quotations to return to in the future. Judy Chicural understands and conveys the longing of youth and the frequent disappointment of experience so well that I felt a real resonance with my long lost teenage self.

I don’t know if I am able to say I ‘enjoyed’ Chicurel’s ‘If I Knew You Were Going To Be That Beautiful I Never Would Have Let You Go’, but I was certainly ensnared by the quality of the writing and emotionally moved and affected by it – so much so I wept at the end. I would certainly read it again as I’m sure I have missed many nuances on first reading.

If I knew...

Theft of Life by Imogen Robertson

I am indebted to Frances Gough of Headline for providing this novel for review.

I am utterly ashamed to confess that I have not previously read any of Imogen Robertson’s novels featuring Gabriel Crowther and Harriet Westerman, but I will be rectifying that omission immediately. That said, I did not need the earlier novels to enjoy this read as a one off.

‘Theft of Life’ is an exquisitely written murder mystery story based in the murky world of London in May 1785. An ex-slave trader is found dead, partially clothed and wearing a slave mask. The race is on for Harriet and Gabriel to discover what has happened to him.

The attention to detail and the research that has obviously gone in to the background of slavery underlying this narrative makes it an utterly absorbing and convincing read. Keeping true to the niceties and manners of the time so that the text is historically accurate, whilst managing to write an accessible, entertaining and thoroughly satisfying story takes considerable skill and I felt Imogen Robertson excels in ‘Theft of Life’. I really felt immersed in London of the late 1700s. Whilst there is no shying away from a very disturbing era of British history, there is, very frequently, a warmth and humour in this book that prevents it from being ‘preachy’ and makes it all the more effective.

I loved the details of day to day life and London as a setting, being easily able to picture what was described. Similarly, I found the characters utterly real; some thoroughly despicable, others completely charming. Underpinning the several exciting twists and turns in the story is real human emotion including love, revenge, jealousy, hatred, fear and madness.

The structure of the novel over one week gave it a coherence and pace that I felt was truly cinematic. ‘Theft of Life’ is a book that can be read and enjoyed on many levels. I loved it.

Theft of Life