|PLEASE DON’T LEAVE ME HERE
Tania Chandler (chandlertania.wordpress.com)
Scribe Publications (scribepublications.co.uk)
Today, the Please Don’t Leave Me Here blog tour stops at Reader Dad. My review of this excellent debut novel is below. Be sure to check out the other stops of the blog (details below).
Brigitte is living a normal family life in the Melbourne suburbs: married to a policeman, mother to young twins. One morning the news informs her that police are re-opening the fourteen-year-old Eric Tucker case; Tucker was beaten to death in his apartment on the same day that Brigitte was knocked down in a hit-and-run which left her in constant pain, and with no memory of the time immediately before the accident. But the case re-opens old wounds – Brigitte was a prime suspect at the time, despite the fact that she can’t remember ever meeting Tucker, and is now married to the policeman who led the investigation. When he brings home the detective tasked with re-opening the case, things start to fall apart for Brigitte, a process that is accelerated when her husband is killed in the line of duty. Kurt Cobain, who killed himself mere weeks before Tucker’s death and her own catastrophic meeting with a blue Camry, starts to appear in Brigitte’s dreams, and the memory of what happened in 1994 starts to slowly return.
Tania Chandler’s debut novel gives us a glimpse into Brigitte’s life as it slowly begins to crumble around her. From the outset, we feel that we’re playing catch-up, trying to get up to speed with the history that has led Brigitte to this point, not helped by the huge gaps in her memory. Brigitte – and the reader – begins to get flashbacks of that time, a brief snippet of conversation, an image that she cannot shake, all intertwined with the weird dreams that incorporate Nirvana’s surreal “Heart-Shaped Box” music video and the band’s lead singer, who seems to haunt her even when she is awake. The opening segment of the novel covers an unknown – but quite long – period during 2008. Chandler’s writing is masterful: she dips in and out of Brigitte’s life during this period showing us brief, but extremely detailed, moments of her spiralling life. At the same time, there is something that makes us feel like everything is moving in slow motion towards a seemingly inevitable conclusion.
As the novel returns to 1994 – the long central portion of the book – we find ourselves once again in the company of Brigitte, but a much different person than the one who inhabits 2008: a drug-addicted stripper locked in an abusive relationship. When she finds love, things seem to take an upward turn, and we begin to see how the flashbacks we’ve already encountered fit into the bigger picture, happy times and sad, and some explanation for Cobain’s presence in her future. Here, we encounter tenderness and violence, love, sex and drugs, a hard-hitting concoction that pulls no punches, and puts us in Brigitte’s shoes as she experiences the whole spectrum of emotions.
Music plays an important role in the development of the story, and we hear recurring themes as we progress, not just the music of Kurt Cobain, but that of bandmate Dave Grohl’s Foo Fighters and the beautiful, haunting melody that is Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue’s “Where the Wild Roses Grow”, which forms a backdrop to some of the most important moments of Brigitte’s life. It’s a wonderful, if somewhat off-the-wall soundtrack to an excellent novel.
At the heart of the story are the twin mysteries of Eric Tucker’s murder and Brigitte’s hit-and-run accident. Chandler builds towards the solution of the one, while the perpetrator of the other is unimportant to us as readers except in its resulting effect on Brigitte’s memory. When the killer is revealed, the reader begins to re-examine what has gone before, picking up on throw-away lines, liberally dotted clues that we should have picked up the first time around had we not been so engrossed in what is happening to Brigitte.
Please Don’t Leave Me Here is an accomplished first novel that reads like the work of a much more experienced author. Tania Chandler knows how to manipulate her audience, and her writing style is unique and engaging. In Brigitte she presents us a fragile and unlikely heroine without ever making her the stereotypical weak and needy damsel in distress. The characters around her are, for the most part, a thoroughly unpleasant bunch, both in her new life in 2008 and in the old one of 1994, and this serves to keep us firmly in Brigitte’s corner. The juxtaposition of Brigitte’s unravelling life and the slowly unfolding mystery combined with suggestive musical accompaniment make this a book that is sure to stick in the reader’s mind, a story that will come to us for a long time whenever we hear Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” or Nick Cave’s Murder Ballads. Beautifully written and wonderfully atmospheric, this is a book not to be missed, and an author at the beginning of what is sure to be an incredible career.