Despite being a Sunday Times bestselling author, Susan Lewis has managed to evade my literature radar until now. Her latest novel, The Truth About You, is a fitting introduction to an author whose research into her subject matter shines through her storytelling, creating an authentic novel that slowly builds and gathers pace as you travel the highs and lows experienced by its characters.
We begin the story with Lainey Hollingsworth, whose affluent family life couldn’t be more idyllic, that is until Lainey starts to suspect that the people she loves most are keeping secrets from her. First there’s Lainey’s husband, Tom, who hasn’t got the best track-record with fidelity and has started behaving suspiciously, disappearing at the drop of a hat and appearing distant when he’s at home. Then there’s her daughter, Tierney, whose teenager fuelled mood-swings have switched up a gear, increasing Lainey’s worries that her daughter is growing up too fast. On top of these new concerns, comes an old worry that Lainey has been carrying around forever. It’s something that her mother would never discuss when she was alive, the answer to the questions, why did she leave Italy when Lainey was just a baby and why would she never talk about the family she left behind?
When Lainey’s world falls apart around her, she travels to Umbria with her children and best-friend in the hope that she can discover her roots and find out what her mother’s big secret was. As with many familial secrets, there’s a reason why Lainey’s mother was so bitter and guarded and, as she struggles to come to terms with her own mess of a life, Lainey begins to understand that some things are better off buried in the past.
Whilst The Truth About You gets off to a slow start, with the mundanities of Lainey’s family-filled life taking up a large chunk of the opening, Susan Lewis has a talent for scene setting and you realise the importance of creating the calm before the storm in the narrative. Lainey lives a very privileged life and the reality of her world tearing apart at the seams is almost too much for her to bear. Suddenly she starts to question her entire marriage and it provokes a need in her to flee. When Lainey escapes to Italy the novel really comes alive and the change of pace is felt immediately. The difference in location and culture breathes life into a story that could have become claustrophobic had it stayed rooted in England.
Lainey is a likeable protagonist in her doting motherly and house-wifely ordinariness, but she’s also incredibly frustrating, jumping to conclusions and forming scenarios in her mind before she knows the facts. As irrational as her reactions seem though, they’re believable and it’s Lewis’ characters that hold the plot together with their resilience and normality. Had the characters been weaker the story would have fallen apart early on. Lewis has managed to balance her strong characters with a plot that reveals their weaknesses but allows them to come out of it at the end stronger and better off as a result. She also captures the difficult family dynamic perfectly, from the sweet and innocent youngest child, to the teenage girl transitioning into a woman, to the adult step-son feeling abandoned by his father, to the parents trying to be there for their children whilst dealing with their own issues, these characters are about as real as you’ll ever get.
For those cynics amongst us, the ending might seem a little too fairytale-like, a bit sickly sweet in its niceness. In a perfect world we’d all like to be as forgiving and loving as Lainey, but the truth is that many wouldn’t adjust quite so well to the changes she’s faced with. The Truth About You instils the importance of family, trust and forgiveness, an ideal that we should all at least try to live by.