A crime story and off-kilter romance, What I Couldn’t Tell You is Faye Bird’s second novel. Like the well-received My Second Life, it is tightly-plotted, a tense mystery with an arresting premise that cleverly reflects and develops the themes of the novel.
The story follows two sisters: Laura is out with her boyfriend Joe when something happens that leaves her in a coma. Was it an accident or an act of violence? Joe has vanished and no-one knows. Tessie, the book’s central character, suffers from selective mutism and speaks only when she’s at home, and then only when the doors are PROPER SHUT. To Tessie the world is a terrifying place and always has been, ‘there are no words that can make it better’. As the mystery around Laura unfolds readers are very aware of things that aren’t and can’t be said, and Tessie’s inability to speak is often described in very physical terms. A relationship with a new boy at school, Billy, seems to offer her a way out and she recognises that like her he is filled up with things he can’t say. But Billy finds different ways to express his pain. Wondering early on in the story whether Joe put Laura into the coma, Tessie considers whether you can hurt someone you really love; by the end, Billy is forced to admit that you can’t love someone you’ve really hurt.
A thoughtful, well-written and challenging thriller. A note from the publisher on the back cover warns that this contains strong language and is not recommended for younger readers.