When the author of our best book of its year releases a new offering, we greet it with overwhelming enthusiasm, & equal disappointment when we miss the old thrill. I loved The Blue, & whilst I’d not say I exactly hated Last Seen, just compare a fifty-foot offshore sailing yacht with a beach hut. We go from a book seriously comparable to Joseph Conrad’s to the world of . . . well, beach-reads. Not that this one is lacking in the qualities sought by beach readers: adultery, betrayal, teen pregnancy, who’s your dad stuff, BFs who are worst frenemies, a 1st person narrator who loves to jerk you around by letting it slip that she’s got a secret she’s saving for the denouement (how do 1st-person narrators know they are characters in a story book whose job is to keep readers in suspense by withholding the truth?). I’d also award a prize for the most unlikely boys’ names: Jacob & Marley. Apparently nobody in this book had read Dickens or seen the movie about a cute dog. Tho’ as Marley is supposed to have perished seven years ago in a swimming accident (I’ve never enjoyed swimming as a recreation – as opposed to being a way of saving your life should you fall in the water), his ghost indeed haunts his mother Isla (I am not making this name up) & her supposed BF Sarah (shouldn’t it be Rebecca?), mother of Jacob, his boyhood friend. I found Jacob a thoroughly nasty piece of work long before the secrets come out – his treatment of his girlfriend & of his mother was abominable – but remembering he is but 17 must make allowances. How often when we think back on our own childhoods and teen years do most of us not feel an immense sense of guilt – with just a little more bad luck we could have done serious harm. Often I ask myself, “Could I have done something as sleazy as that?” Yes, actually.) Like Sharon Bolton’s Little Black Lies, this book is a superb study of the destructive effects of nourishing chronic grief & also about lying. If these characters had told the truth in the 1st place, they’d have faced some very embarrassing situations, but perhaps emerged as morally better people. Unfortunately, beach combing brings out the inner slacker in all of us (these characters spend most of their free time – they don’t have anything else to do – smoking both funny and regular cigarettes and drinking). Whereas sailing an offshore yacht brings out our better selves, every relationship is a threesome because it includes a very high maintenance relationship with the boat.)
If you compare the photo above with the picture of the sailing yacht accompanying my review of The Blue, you will see how inferior a book this one proved to be.
Tho’ very disappointed, I found as a suspense novel the final chapters of this one to be un-put-downable & as a animadversion of what not to do in your relationships, Last Seen morally admirable. So I’m not sorry I read it. But please, Lucy Clarke, get off the beach & back on the boat!