Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

How much do we really know one another? What are the things that have to be kept secret in normal family and social life for humans function?

Celeste Ng (http://www.celesteng.com/) expertly explores and exposes such secrets in the family Lee of Ohio in her debut here. Long-hidden, quietly explosive truths, weighted by issues of race and gender, are allowed to bubble slowly to the surface. This is a sensitive, absorbing novel which reverberates long after its final page. Its emotional complexities will hold your attention until its final mysteries are unveiled. The summary is as follows. ‘Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet . . .’ So begins this debut novel about a mixed-race family living in 1970s Ohio and the tragedy that will either be their undoing or their salvation. Lydia is the favourite child of Marilyn and James Lee; their middle daughter, a girl who inherited her mother’s bright blue eyes and her father’s jet-black hair. Her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue—in Marilyn’s case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James’s case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the centre of every party. When Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together tumbles into chaos, forcing them to confront the long-kept secrets that have been slowly pulling them apart.

A similar theme is explored by James Joyce in a short story – The Dead  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dead_(short_story)) in his 1914 collection Dubliners (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Dubliners-Penguin-Modern-Classics-Joyce/dp/0141182458/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1418393063&sr=8-1&keywords=dubliners) In this story a man in Dublin, Gabriel Conroy, discovers after an evening dinner party that his wife has secretly harboured a passionate love for a young suitor, Michael Furey whom she’d known many years before. Gretta has never, on that account, fully given her passionate love to her husband. The ‘dead’, as it were, can reach out beyond the limits of their mortal extinction to have influence still. This alters everything and it is no co-incidence that Joyce sets the narrative on the evening of Epiphany. This is one of the best short stories ever written. It concludes with these haunting lines:

‘Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried’.

The story was brought to the screen by John Huston in 1987 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dead_(1987_film), and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0092843/) Available on DVD at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Dead-DVD-Anjelica-Huston/dp/B000EWOO4C/ref=sr_1_1?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1418474557&sr=1-1&keywords=the+dead

Also do watch Mike Leigh’s 1996 film Secrets & Lies (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secrets_%26_Lies_(film), http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0117589/?ref_=nv_sr_4). This strongly conveys that unsettling feeling that we don’t really know what lies beneath the surface of other people’s lives, never mind existence itself. Available on DVD at  http://www.amazon.co.uk/Secrets-Lies-DVD-Timothy-Spall/dp/B00005NWZK/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1418392434&sr=8-2&keywords=secrets+%26+lies

304 pages in Blackfriars paperback edition

First published 26 Jun 2014

ISBN 978-0349134284

Celeste Ng

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