BOOK CLUB: Life Before

Author: Carmel Reilly
ISBN: 978 1 76052 931 4
Publication Date: May 2019
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Copy: Courtesy of the Publisher

This guest review was submitted by Lorraine Cormack, one of our long-time Beauty and Lace Club members. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us Lorraine. The review has also been previously published on Lorraine’s personal blog.

“Life Before” is a fascinating novel. It’s predominately a novel which explores relationships, but Reilly uses some thriller-like techniques to give the novel momentum and shape. It’s not a novel for those looking for a traditional thriller, but it’s a stand out for readers wanting a contemporary novel with depth and power.

Lori Spyker is trying to get her kids out of the house and on the way to school when the police visit to advise her that her brother Scott has been seriously injured in a hit and run accident. This is disturbing news for a number of reasons: Lori hasn’t seen or spoken to her brother for decades. In fact, she’s never told her husband that he exists. Being reminded of Scott brings up memories of the traumatic events that led her to cut Scott out of her life.

She can’t just ignore him, though. She appears to be his only contact, and the police want her help to work out why he was run down, and by whom. It’s a moral dilemma too – what does she owe a brother she no longer knows? What will be the impact on her new life if she has to reveal her past?

Lori is a strong and empathetic character, and most readers will find something they recognise in her. In many ways she’s an everywoman: in a happy marriage but sometimes struggling to find time for her husband; loving her kids but sometimes finding the caretaking hard; wanting a career but barely having time for a job. Her dilemma may be uncommon in its’ details, but the broad picture of a woman tussling with her obligations, wants and needs, is familiar and an accessible way into her head.

The novel alternates between the current day and the events of the early 1990s. In both time lines the pictures of family life are vivid and loving. Lori’s mother, Pam, emerges as the central character of the earlier period, and she’s as well rounded and recognisable a character as Lori. As a result, both storylines are compelling. Reilly has woven them together well; the novel flows exceptionally well despite the constant changes in time.

Towards the end, where multiple storylines are drawn together, some readers may feel that too many are pulled together – in real life, not everything is connected. For me this was something of a blip – I did feel it was a little too much, but Reilly did not dwell on this too much, so I was able to forgive it. I’m trying to avoid spoilers, but I will say that there was one connection too many for me to be comfortable with.

However, I really enjoyed “Life Before”. It’s a really strong character based novel – the plot is strong and credible, but it’s Lori and Pam’s relationships with themselves and others which give the novel real power. Reilly saves one last kick in the pants for the last page – you’ll want to read the whole novel again in light of your new perceptions. Highly recommended.

Life Before is available now through Allen & Unwin and where all good books are sold.

Thanks to Allen & Unwin 20 of our Beauty and Lace Club members will be reading Life Before so please be aware there may be spoilers in the comments below.

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