Top positive review
Sad but profound story about families
14 June 2018
“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.”
This must be one of the saddest and most foreshadowing opening sentences I’ve ever come across, and it was a sign of things to come. Rarely has a book pierced straight through me like this heart-breaking novel of dysfunctional family dynamics, secrets, broken dreams and things left unsaid until it is too late. I loved Ng’s novel Little Fires Everywhere for her portrayal of family life, and this one (her previous novel) shows the same astute insights into the very hearts of her characters, until they are laid bare in front of us.
Ng’s skill lies in the way she presents relatable characters, slowly peeling away layer after layer until all their secrets are revealed. As a reader I could relate to each member of the Lee family, recognise their feelings, hopes and ambitions, find traces of those in my own heart. Everything I Never Told You is all about parents, and the way their broken dreams affect their children – how they form their personality, the way they view the world, their relationships and their futures. The terrible thing about this book is that the parents, James and Marilyn, love their children and want only the best for them, but in doing so, put a terrible burden on their shoulders. Each child assumes a certain role in the family, with all the expectations resting on Lydia, who slowly gets crushed under their weight. On one hand, her father constantly tells her to fit in, to be like everyone else, to work hard towards having lots of friends and being popular. On the other hand, her mother tells her to stand out from the rest, to be exceptional, to live the life Marilyn wanted but couldn’t have. When Lydia finds herself floundering, not living up to either of her parent’s expectations, she is already so entrenched in her role that she cannot see a way out.
Looking back on my own childhood, I could see that we, too, each played a role, even long into adulthood. I left home at eighteen, emigrated to the other side of the world and had children of my own, and yet every time I stepped off the plane to visit my childhood home I was straight back in that role. Maybe that was part of the reason why my heart simply broke for Lydia as I could see her drowning. This was such a sad, sad story! Although I loved Ng’s writing, I had to take small breaks in between chapters, as the sheer weight of sadness in the Lee family infiltrated small corners of my life to a point where I was thinking about the book constantly. It shows the skill of an author to create characters so real that they form three dimensional pictures in the reader’s mind, and Lydia’s sad blue eyes haunted me as I balanced on the brink between waking and sleep at night. It seemed that every single character in this story carried a sadness so profound that it shaped every moment of their existence. Ng writes beautifully, in a language that easily carried you straight into the heart of the story. I look forward to reading more from this talented author!