Wow! I’m not sure what I expected from this debut author but it wasn’t this evocative tale of a girl whose sister goes missing one autumnal day in 1982.
Anna Flores’ sister, Gabriella went missing, in fact we only see her reflected through her younger sister’s adoring eyes but it’s now thirty years later and Anna’s mother has died and it is time to clear the house and sort through the family possessions. Anna sadly returns from Athens to attend the funeral but finds herself needing to confront what happened all those years ago.
Split between the present day and 1982 this is every family and uniquely the Flores family. Somehow this author has summoned up the 1980s without resorting to constantly naming the brands of the day or key events of the time but rather more exceptionally, by evoking the attitudes of those times.
We have Esther Flores, mother to two daughters, Gabriella and Anna and wife to Albert Flores who owns a second-hand shop which offers house clearance services. Now I don’t know about you but in another life I can think of no better way than to go poking around through the books, photos and sentimental items collected by a homeowner – I have to admit, I’m not up for the heavy lifting of furniture or cleaning up but the building a picture of a life lived, sorting the valuable from the rubbish, would be perfect for the nosiness I have about other people’s lives. Esther doesn’t like it when Albert does a house clearance as he is away from home far too much as but she has her friend Rita who brings her crime thrillers to read and offal from her husband’s butcher shop to feed her family.
At first any conflict in the family is seemingly benign with Gabriella pushing against her mother’s rules by dying her hair black and wearing unsuitable clothes at which point Albert steps in as the peacemaker without overly upsetting either party. Meanwhile Anna is young enough to observe all that is happening but when the whispering starts between her mother and father her attempts to eavesdrop fall far short of informing her of what has happened. Gabriella now has secrets from her and she feels she’s been pushed to the edge of the family.
And then Gabriella disappears on her way home from school one night, she’s agreed to meet Anna at the shop, House of Flores but she never turns up and in the intervening years there have been few clues to follow.
Told in alternating time periods between the events of 1982 and Anna’s present life carrying out the one last house clearance her mother had agreed to, Anna starts to put some of the pieces of the puzzle together. Reconnecting with those residents who are still alive, including of course Rita who had remained a steadfast friend Anna is able to reconcile the events of the past to some degree.
This book, despite not being the psychological thriller I had expected from its title was definitely a page-turner but of the less manic variety than the genre normally provides; indeed I would say this is on the edge of what is traditionally called women’s fiction exploring as it does families, secrets, friendship, community and love in a vivid and evocative way. I adored it all, the descriptions of Anna’s grandparents coming to visit, the two girls exchanging looks as the same old stories are told, visit after visit, the gentle love and respect her parents demonstrate for each other and their children gave me a feeling of nostalgia for what were arguably simpler times for children.
An assured debut that has me eager to see what Jenny Quintana will offer next.
I’d like to thank the publishers Pan Macmillan who sent me a copy of The Missing Girl, this review is my unbiased thanks to them.