Someone should write a poem, I thought, about the women. Not just about the men marching bravely to war and dying, but about their wives, their girls, their mothers and sisters and daughters, sitting in silence and screaming into the darkness. … Someone should write a poem about the women. But I already knew that no one ever would.
(from Lost Among the Living)
Quick summary: Lost Among the Living, the latest novel by Simone St. James, is an atmospheric tale set in Sussex, England, in 1921. The novel is told from the point of view of Jo Manders, whose husband, Alex, went missing in The Great War when his plane went down. She is an unofficial war widow, and without a body to claim, and therefore no widow’s pension, she takes the role of paid companion to her husband’s aunt, Dottie Forsyth, who is focused on two things: selling the art she bought while touring the Continent and finding a wife for her wounded son, Martin, who is only now returning from the war. Not long after she arrives at Wych Elm House, Jo sees the ghost of Dottie’s daughter, Frances Forsyth, whose mental illness and mysterious death sparked numerous rumors about the family. Jo is determined to find out why Frances keeps appearing only to her — even if it means she must come to terms with the fact that she didn’t know her husband as well as she thought she did.
Why I wanted to read it: I love ghost stories, and I was intrigued by the connection to the Great War.
What I liked: So many times I stumble upon a novel that is supposed to be creepy, atmospheric, and suspenseful only to be let down. But St. James exceeded my expectations with her vivid descriptions (I could easily picture the mist and the blowing leaves that characterized the dreary landscape), and there were even a few times that I contemplated putting the book down because I didn’t want to read it while alone in the house at night. I thought the plot and the characters were well developed, and the pacing was spot on in terms of building suspense. I liked that I was able to put together some but not all of the pieces of the mystery, and the way St. James weaves in the war and Alex’s secrets was clever. The use of the first person viewpoint created even more suspense in that readers only know what Jo knows.
What I disliked: Nothing! If I hadn’t been so busy, I probably would’ve read this book in one sitting.
Final thoughts: Simone St. James is a new-to-me writer, and as soon as I finished Lost Among the Living I determined that I must read her previous novels, which all seem to be equally suspenseful. I loved her writing here, particularly the passages that describe the intensity of Jo and Alex’s relationship, which enable readers to feel Jo’s grief and the frustration inherent in not knowing Alex’s fate. I also liked that while there was romance and passion, Lost Among the Living is at its core a ghost story, but it’s so much more than that. St. James shows the impact of the war on the returning soldiers and the women whose men never came home, as well as the blurring of the boundaries between social classes and how greed and selfishness can tear families apart. It was a deeper, richer novel than I expected and a strong contender for my Best of 2016 list.
Disclosure: I received Lost Among the Living from NAL for review.
© 2016 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.