- Publisher: Atlantic
- Published: September 1, 2017
Helen Cooper is the perfect wife to Sam and mother to Miranda and Marguerite. Then one day she simply vanishes into thin air. Sam – left to face the responsibility of caring for his children and the house while working full-time – falls apart.
Lara, another mum from school, tries to help him. She also works full-time and is raising her kids without a partner. In contrast to Sam, however, she’s coping beautifully with the help of her mum. Until Sam starts to lean on her for support.
During the months that follow, Sam’s grip on the practical and emotional challenges begins to slip. He starts to believe he sees Helen constantly, but it isn’t her.
Then one day, it is.
Slowly we discover why Helen left, and why her life wasn’t as perfect as it first seemed.
What I thought of it
This is an easy, entertaining read. The story is told by multiple narrators, most in first person, including Lara, Sam and Sam and Helen’s eldest daughter, Miranda. Helen also tells part of the story – mostly in the second half of the book – but her narrative is a more distant, third-person style.
I really enjoyed following Lara around, and even Miranda’s narcissism was understandable – after all, she’s only a child. Helen and Sam, however, really annoyed me.
Just when I got comfortable in the narrative with Lara, I’d be ripped out and sent back to Sam or Helen. They are what stops What She Left from being a light chick-lit style book and elevates it to a story which makes you think.
Sam is basically an a%*hole – my loathing of him only grew as the story went on and I learned more about him.
Helen… oh, Helen. Sam was truly awful to her but she was the only mother that Marguerite had ever known and the mother Miranda had known for most of her short life, though she had dim memories of her birth mother before she died.
Helen had no right to just walk out on those kids. I can’t say more than that without spoilers. I did pause to have a think about my own reaction to Helen’s leaving – was I angry with her because she’s the mother (albeit the step-mother) and mothers aren’t supposed to abandon their children? After all, Lara’s useless ex fathered two children with her and then vanished. The most I felt for him was a brief eye roll.
To me, the disappearances were different. When Lara’s ex left her she knew where he’d gone. There was warning and he had a track record of being unreliable. When Helen walks out she simply vanishes. No warning, no explanation, no closure.
Maybe I’m just trying to justify my own bias. Maybe there is no difference at all between Helen vanishing and Lara’s ex abandoning his kids. Maybe that’s the point of the story.
I did, however, very much enjoy watching Sam scramble around in Helen’s wake. His life changes dramatically when Helen leaves, suddenly filled as it is with life’s mundanities instead of a string of swanky client dinners:
Now I spent my evenings going over lists of spelling words and ironing little pleated skirts. I find myself digging through piles of wet washing in the machine first thing in the morning to locate socks, and 80 per cent of the text messages I get are from the school, reminding me about flu-vaccine forms or homework policy. I feel snarled in domestic detail, like I can’t take a step without some banal, ridiculous problem to do with the girls or the house tripping me up.
Disclosure: I received a copy from the publisher for the purpose of review. This post contains affiliate links.
Not sure what to read next?
Sign up to my newsletter and I’ll send you emails about the BEST new releases in historical, contemporary, literary and science fiction for adults PLUS picture books and younger fiction.