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Thursday, May 23, 2024



“The List of Suspicious Things: is at heart a coming-of-age story, and a moving and well-constructed one. Review by Margaret von Klemperer, courtesy of The Witness)

Jennie Godfrey’s debut novel The List of Suspicious Things centres on Miv, a child on the cusp of adolescence. Much of the story is told in her voice, which is a notoriously difficult thing to make convincing in writing, but on the whole, Godfrey succeeds.

Miv has a difficult home life: her mother is almost catatonic from some unexplained trauma which will only be revealed at the end of the book, her father is anxious and depressed, and her aunt who is helping the family is efficient but not warm.

Miv’s mainstay is her best friend, the pretty and kind Sharon. Miv is the clever one but Sharon is somewhat more attuned to the nuances of life, closer to breaking out of childhood.

The setting is working class Yorkshire in the late 1970s, when the local society was consumed by the depredations of a serial killer, the Yorkshire Ripper. One night, Miv overhears her father and aunt discussing whether they should move south, away from Yorkshire and its current horrors. Terrified at the thought of leaving Sharon, she comes up with a plan – the girls will track down the Ripper, and then her family will stay.

Of course, the Yorkshire Ripper story is well-known in the annals of serial killers, and the reader is aware that two pre-teens are not going to find him so that is not the tension in the book. However, they make a list of people whom they suspect could be guilty, including, of course, a teacher they dislike. But while their search may be childish, they begin to uncover secrets and undercurrents in their community that are anything but.

There is the racism of the time as well as other prejudices, there are adult secrets that have been kept from them but that they slowly and tentatively begin to understand, and there is violence that bubbles just below the surface. It is a turbulent time, both in society and in the development of the girls.

The 1970s were a more innocent age than ours. Children grew up later, but as Sharon and Miv follow their quest, they are forced to confront the world of adults and to slowly understand it – and not always like it. There is humour and warmth in the book, but there is also profound tragedy. The List of Suspicious Things is at heart a coming-of-age story, and a moving and well-constructed one. - Margaret von Klemperer

The List of Suspicious Things is published by Hutchinson Heinemann. ISBN 978-1-529-15330-9