"Something Might Happen"
(Reviewed by Judi Clark OCT 5, 2003)
"When you live right bang up close to someone, it can be hard to get far enough back to see them clearly. Or maybe your eyes do look, but your brain can't take it in. Like you never notice your own kids growing, or your own baby getting proper hair."
Sometimes the hardest part about writing these reviews is figuring out which "bookshelf" it belongs to. In this case, the novel does begin with a murdered body, which qualifies it for the Mystery/Suspense bookshelf. But the forward movement of the book has very little to do with solving the murder, and in fact it isn't solved, ever. But that's the beauty of this novel; we all know that many crimes go unsolved so why must they always be neatly concluded in fiction? Though the story is about the murder and how it affects the narrator and her family, it's not the whole story nor is it the main tragedy.
Tess is our narrator. She's the one that must impress upon us that it's unbelievable that her best friend is murdered -- not in this town, not to them. That these four people -- Tess, her husband Mick, her best friend Lennie and Lennie's husband Alex -- chose this lovely English seaside town over any other because it would be such a safe place to raise their families, to live perfect lives. As she says of the last person to see Lennie alive, "In another town perhaps, he might have seen her to her car, but not this one. No one expects that here. This town really is a safe place, everyone knows that. Even in winter, even after dark, it's a place where, once kids know how to cross a road sensibly, they can pretty much go around alone." I think for most Americans it's hard to imagine a place that is still that safe. The day after I started this novel, Anna Lindh, the Swedish foreign minister, was fatally knifed in public -- an outrageous act for a country that normally hasn't a need to provide security for their government officials. Seeing this European reaction to Lindh's murder made the opening events really click for me. Right, murder is not a daily news event everywhere. Though the shock, disorientation and adjustment that the characters in this novel go through are universal.
There are other hints that this is not an American novel. Like the fact that a police officer who plays the role of "family liaison" is assigned to stay with Alex, the grieving husband, throughout the investigation. Obviously this has a twofold purpose, not only does he help out the shocked Alex and his children, but he also can be close enough to him and his friends to suss out guilt or incomplete facts. It's hard to imagine that there would be enough manpower in U.S. to provide such a service.
Although the investigation is incidental to the main events, the book is peppered with known facts about Lennie's murder, as well as speculation, rumors and secrets. It is very much the way one really does experience the shock and curiosity of murder. We're not privy to the detailed investigation, but we do know its effects. As it turns out, Tess is actually a prime one for keeping secrets, for she does hang onto a private life one that includes her own beach hut -- where she and Alex happened to be on the night that Lennie was murdered. For good reason, Tess is the first to believe and yet at the same time discount, that there might have been more to Lennie's life than she knew.
And Tess's reaction to the murder is to be more reckless and irresponsible than normal -- as if that now that something bad has happened she can no longer be touched. She seems to have an uncontrollable attraction to the family liaison man, Ted Lacey. It's easy to miss the hints at first -- is she startled when she first meets him because there is a stranger in the house or is it, as we later must assume, because there's something about this man that gets immediately under her skin? Either way, eventually it brings us round to the underlying theme, that when one is distracted, something might happen to the ones we love. It happened to Alex and later it happens to Tess.
The matter-of-fact family life within the novel imparts a unique atmosphere, a style that could be called domestic noir. Tess nurses baby Livvie throughout the novel. There's an easy and practiced exchange between Tess and Mick about the kids -- Mick is the stay-at-home-parent, while Tess is a doctor with her own practice. And, naturally, this extends to concern over Alex's boys. But there is also a marital tension between Tess and Mick; you can see how Tess values Mick, but at the same time she's keeping herself separate from him though for no real apparent reason except maybe because he thinks he knows her so well. As she says about Mick when she tells us about a sixth sense she often experiences, that is, knowing things before others do, "And he laughs. Not because he doesn't understand, but because of the opposite: he thinks he understands too well. I can't surprise him any more." We know that Mick tolerates Tess's behavior, he even covers that she was out at the beach hut the night of the murder, but because it is Tess narrating, and she doesn't ask, we don't really understand why. The little conversation they have on this (Tess is into avoidance) we sense that Mick has a need to keep the family together. Something he values, actually they both value. Same as with Lennie and Alex. But something has happened to their perfect lives, something that can not be undone.
This is not a standard murder mystery. It is narrated by the closest friend of the victim and her focus is not on solving the case, it's to tell us about this unexpected monumental event in their lives and to reveal the bigger story. Although the novel has forward momentum -- Tess sucks us in with her forthright narration -- some might feel it is uneven, especially if waiting for the "surprise" to be revealed about the murderer. Don't anticipate, read this novel word by word, she does provide us many clues, as in this passage half way through the book:
Our lives are all around us. That's what I know now. The beginnings and the ends of the them, some wrapped tight, pulsing, unknowable -- others floating free.
Time is a made-up thing. Everything happens at once. I know that now. It's all the same --- life, death and life again. Children know this. That's why they complain if you make them wait for anything. Waiting is dead time, nothing time, they know that. Waiting is a punishment, finally over when the moment comes.
- Amazon readers rating: from 4 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Something Might Happen at MostlyFiction.com
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Sleepwalking (1993)
- The Touch (1996)
- Me and the Fat Man (1999)
- Laura Blundy (2000)
- Something Might Happen (October 2003)
- The Story of You (June 2006)
- Home: The Story of Everyone Who Ever Lived in Our House (2004)
- Not a Games Person (June 2005)
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- Wikipedia on Julie Myerson
- Guardian Unlimited interview with Julie Myerson
- Travel Indepent article by Julie Myerson
- Reading Guide for Laura Blundy
- Bookloons reivew of Something Might Happen
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About the Author:
Julie Myerson was born in Nottingham in 1960, read English at Bristol University and worked for the National Theatre and Walker Books before becoming a full-time writer. She is a well-known journalist and critic and since 1994 has had her own column in The London Independent and regularly reviews films and books in newspapers and for radio, as well as writing for most of Britain's glossy magazines. Sleepwalking was shortlisted for the prestigious John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and her novels have been translated into many languages. She lives in South London with her partner, the award winning writer John Myerson, and their three children.