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BOOK REVIEW: What She Left by T. R. Richmond

| 21 April 2015 | 1 Reply

BOOK REVIEW: What She Left by T. R. Richmond

Penguin – Michael Joseph
April 2015
Paperback, $32.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell



Who is Alice Salmon?
Student. Journalist. Daughter. 
Lover of late nights, hater of deadlines.

That girl who drowned last year.

Gone doesn’t mean forgotten. 
Everyone’s life leaves a trace behind. 
But it’s never the whole story. 

We’ll all have to be strong for them now: your lovely dad with his mad sweaters and that way he has of saying Al-ice, pausing between the ‘Al’ and the ‘ice’ as if he’s asking a question, and your mum, your gorgeous mum, a one woman dynamo, who you’re an absolute spitting image of and take after in so many ways, but you won’t take after anyone anymore. It’s stopped, you have, a line’s been drawn under you, the last page in your book, and there’s a huge hole where you and that laugh and that AWFUL taste in music and those OUTRAGEOUS leggings should be.

Through the pages of this book you will come to know Alice, her best friend Megan, boyfriend Luke, family, loved ones, and even Jeremy Cooke, anthropologist, lecturer… lech?

I’m drunk, Liz. Not that it’s apparent. Can’t even do that well: get drunk. Look at this email: even the god-damn punctuation is right. I’m going to have another drink. The lecherous lecturer is going to get pie-eyed. A sober drunk. That’s an oxymoron if ever I heard one. Listen to me, an oxymoron. I’m even pretentious when I’m sozzled.

Dr Jeremy Cooke is quickly becoming the person who knows Alice best, through her diaries, emails, and anything using her voice, and you’ll find yourself quickly drawn into the lives of those within these pages.



At its heart, What She Left is a mystery – did she slip, commit suicide, was she killed? – but that’s not the most important thing about this book.

This isn’t a story told in novel format, there is no base prose with snippets of diaries and notes thrown in, this story is told completely through diary entries, notes, emails, texts, and blog posts, with Dr Jeremy Cooke’s letters stringing them all together.

Everything, from the difference in voice and behaviour between all of the characters, to their interactions and emotions, feels so very real.

How they react to loss:

My best friend Alice is dead. Never known someone my own age who’s died before. So unjust so unfair so unreal – like being told there’s a giraffe in the garden.

He asks me a lot about your funeral, Alice… sorry for ballsing my reading up… and when I gave your mum a cuddle she said, ‘Meg, how am I going to do this?’ and I said, ‘You will because you want it to be a celebration of her life,’ and she said, ‘Not today, I mean the rest of my life.’

How they convince themselves they can make it through a breakup:

‘Come back with me, please,’ I said. One final pathetic effort.
You tilted your head upwards. ‘Least Ben’s honest about how shit he is.’
I ignored that, whoever the fuck Ben might have been, and for a second had a handle on it, me after you. How this would become a memory – how Amy had, or Alex, or Pippa. A fleeting, foggy sense of me looking back on you in a year or two or five; yes, with a twinge of regret, but as a memory. I’d view you as a stepping stone on the way to her – whoever she was, my next girlfriend. Maybe it – tonight, this – would become an in-joke of ours, me and her, how I’d once fought with a woman on a bench by the river in the snow.

When I was a kid, I used to visualize romantic crises: I figured I couldn’t be a woman without having experienced them. I composed poems about them, loaded with airy, theoretical claptrap.
But this is the reality – not having the faintest idea whether hate trumps love and, beyond that, the messy, practical details, not knowing whether to leave my phone on or turn it off, and what I’ll say if a colleague asks after him at work, and what to do about our Globe tickets for next Thursday.

And, most importantly, the good times they remember:

‘I hate arguing with you,’ I said.
‘Me too.’
‘You’re the best mum I’ve got by far!’ I said, laughing, wiping snot from my nose.
‘And you’re the best daughter I’ve got by far.’

There’s not a cloud in the sky. It’s the sort of day you remember from childhood but never know whether it actually happened or if it’s a trick your memory plays on you: ice creams and sandcastles and dozing in cars and being carried up to bed. The sort of day everyone should be able to remember, but a lot of kids never have. We really tried to give our kids days when it was sea and sky.


This book, these characters, will get inside you, invade your dreams, steal your sleep as you stay up past your bedtime to devour as much of it as possible.

You’ll mourn the loss of Alice Palace, Ace, Fish Face Salmon, along with those who knew and loved her.

This story will stay with you long after you turn the last page.

You’ll have to keep reminding yourself that it’s fiction.

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