Reviewed by Emma Crowley
What would you do if you learned that the life you lived was a lie?
Nina McCarrick lives the perfect life, until her husband, Finn, is killed in a car accident and everything Nina thought she could rely on unravels.
Alone, bereft and faced with a mountain of debt, Nina quickly loses her life of luxury and she begins to question whether she ever really knew the man she married. Forced to move out of her family home, Nina returns to the rundown Southampton council estate—and the sister—she thought she had left far behind.
But Nina can’t let herself be overwhelmed—her boys need her. To save them, and herself, she will have to do what her husband discouraged for so long: pursue a career of her own. Torn between the life she thought she knew and the reality she now faces, Nina finally must learn what it means to take control of her life.
Lately I seem to be developing the same pattern in terms of my opinions regarding the books written by Amanda Prowse. In so much as I adore one of her books, am totally enthralled by it and can't get it out of my head as in Another Love (the best thing she has ever written in my opinion as I still can't get it out of my head a year or two after reading it) and The Food of Love. Then I find the subsequent book although a good read it just doesn't capture my imagination or hit me right where it matters as in My Husband's Wife or The Idea of You. This new book from Amanda The Art of Hiding falls into the latter category for me. It's not a bad book at all, the subject matter is topical as one has come to expect from this author. The writing is as brilliant as ever, again with numerous quotes I would want to take down and look back on so astute and on point are they regarding the situation our main protagonist Nina McCarrick finds herself in. You do find yourself rooting for a positive outcome but know it cannot be achieved without sacrifice and gaining some courage and determination.
But from the first few chapters I just felt I had already read this this type of story several times before – woman loses her husband, her life is turned upside down, secrets are revealed, the family have to start from scratch and try and build themselves up again. I saw a friend had felt the same about this book too. It all just felt too familiar although what does set it apart from other books is the way that it is written particularly the first half as the author does really get inside Nina's head and explores a myriad of emotions – anger, hurt, disbelief, pain, loss, heartbreak and anguish to name but a few. I felt the second half tapered off and it just felt that bit too run of the mill and slightly predictable you couldn't fail to guess the outcome although I was glad the romance element didn't become a cliché which I had feared that was the direction it was going in.
The author writes brilliantly on controversial topics and although the storyline here is not controversial rather more so emotional and life altering, it just didn't grab me in the same way as some of her previous books had. I wasn't a sobbing mess by the end and although Nina's route to climbing back from the very bottom is not an easy one I just didn't really get into her head all that much and it's not because I have never been in her situation before as I have never experienced most of what Amanda's characters go through it's just I think the story was too short compared to previous books and once a point had been reached it hadn't much further to go and the remainder was too obvious. Towards the end it felt rushed and just that little bit too easy.
The Art of Hiding really was a book of two halves for me. The first half was brilliantly written and I understood the desperation and incredulity the family and in particular Nina were feeling. The second half wasn't as strong and I began to lose interest ever so slightly. When we first meet Nina it's clear she leads a privileged life thanks to the success of husband Finn's construction business. Her own childhood wasn't the best and she believes she has now found the polar opposite and is living the life she had always dreamed of. She is happy, content and in love and raising two children - Declan aged ten and 15 year old Connor. Life is easy for the family. Nina has everything at her finger tips, anything she wants for the home or things the boys need are in more than plentiful supply. Basically the family has money and security yet behind all this there was a sense that Nina lacked confidence that once she had met Finn everything had been handed to her so readily and easily that she had forgotten how to stand on her own two feet. Yes she can run a household efficiently and bring up her boys but the question remains. If in the morning everything was taken away how would she cope? Would she crumble under the pressure and the feeling of the rug being pulled from under her or would she easily pick up the few remaining pieces and move on?
Well those questions are ever more relevant as Nina's life is torn apart as her beloved Finn is killed in an accident. Her anchor, her love, the father of her children is gone and it soon becomes apparent he was not the man she believed him to be and as is suggested by the title he was more than skilled in the art of hiding. The world that had been created was nothing more than a façade and everything she believed to be true was nothing more than lies. A mountain of debt is all that is left of Finn and soon the family are homeless and the upper crust school the children had attended is but a distant memory. There is nothing worse than losing a parent or a partner. It is something extremely hard to deal with and to rationalise so to discover the person you loved with all your heart kept so many things from you must be one hundred times worse. Your perception of the person must change immeasurably and above all else I would have felt anger. Nina does feel this and doesn't know how to deal with it. She is mourning for the man she loved yet in some ways she hates him for what he has left behind for her to deal with all on her own. Her grief is all encompassing and the writing here was fantastic. The scenes which followed were brilliant in particular where Nina hastily leaves the house at night in a bid to rid herself of her anger. Also the point at which the house was lost was incredibly raw and hurtful for all involved. Life for the remainder of the book becomes a balancing act and one in which Nina has to put on a front. She has to keep things going for her boys and create a normal life for them at a time when their reality is any thing but normal.
Honestly in ways I felt Nina had become so protected and cosseted by Finn that she was at a complete loss as to what to do to move forward. Now that the never ending supply of money had dried up and things weren't as easy she had to face reality. She needed to step up to the plate and take action, become responsible for the future for herself and her boys. Memories of her husband are altering but now is the time to make new ones and start afresh even if it's the last thing in the world she would have ever have expected to do. I thought Nina was brave that she took the decision to return to Southampton where she grew up despite it holding bad memories for her. Although she didn’t have a brilliant relationship with her sister Tiggy,
I'm glad Tiggy was there for Nina when she needed help the most. Nina needed to come down from the pedestal that Finn had created for her and come in to the real world and with determination, courage and faith she might just begin to do that. The family had to plunge to a very low place full of worry, sadness, fear and agony before they could ever hope to reach a level they were comfortable with. One aspect of the story I loved was that character of Declan. He was so innocent yet devastated by what had happened but at times when things were tense he said something that would make you laugh, bring a smile to your face and offer light amongst all the darkness.
The Art of Hiding isn't my favourite book by Amanda Proswe but I am glad I read it. She is one of those authors I will read no matter what she publishes and as I have come to feel some I will adore and some will just be an OK read for me and that's what I found with this book.
Many thanks to Lake Union publishing via NetGalley for my copy of The Art of Hiding to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.