Ella is drifting through her 20s, with the distinct feeling that she’s not where she should be. She watches as her girlfriend, Alix, succeed in her art and make plans to take her work abroad, while Ella herself fails to produce more than one painting a year, despite her similar artist aspirations. Instead, she finds herself bouncing from one care-giving job to another, privy to the most private moments of people in need. She takes on the task of caring for Jill, a client slightly younger than her usual charges who is left mentally diminished following a tragic accident. Ella is struck by the tenderness with which Jill’s husband, Bryn, cares for her, and the quiet friendship that develops between the two of them as Ella returns each day to help where she can. As she continues to observe their marriage each day, Ella finds herself questioning her own relationships with those around her.
I don’t want to be the sort of person who does what’s safe.
I want to do what’s kind.
This was a lovely little novel and a beautiful debut. It felt very personal, and you really got inside the head of Ella as she cares for Jill and builds this friendship with Bryn. It depicts the most private and intimate moments of such vulnerable people with honesty and sensitivity. The novel is very character-driven, so do not go into this book expecting anything to really happen. It’s very much about the characters as they exist at that moment. The short length of the book means that the focus on characters over narrative works fine, but any longer and the lack of story would have become tedious.
Given the character-driven nature of the novel and the fact that it is third-person, I expected more from the secondary characters, but the focus is very much on Ella and how she defines their relationships. I thought there would be a little more reflection on her relationship with Alix, especially pending her upcoming move to Spain and the strain that may put on their romance. Since Ella’s thoughts are the heart of the book, I think a first-person perspective may have been more appropriate, though in light of the author’s own background within the care industry it may have come across as too autobiographical if that had been the case. I have already seen some reviews incorrectly referring to the lead character as ‘Lila’ rather than Ella, as it does seem very much based on the author’s own experiences. The insights into Ella’s feelings are so distinct and specific that it’s clear the author is writing from personal experience.
The writing felt a little excessive sometimes, and occasionally came across as over-stylised, or elaborate just for the sake of it. I found this occurred particularly at the beginning of the novel, or perhaps I just neglected to notice it so much as the book went on. It didn’t detract from my enjoyment but it did feel somewhat unnecessary. I enjoyed reading Say Say Say but found myself wanting just a little more from it than was ultimately delivered.
Rating: 3 / 5 stars
Say Say Say will be published on August 8th, 2019.
*I received a free e-ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.*