Jane Shemilt’s route to publication is every writer’s dream. A GP and mother of five children, she studied for an MA in creative writing at Bath Spa University, was shortlisted for the Lucy Cavendish fiction prize in 2012 and saw her first novel, Daughter, published in August this year.
But if that isn’t impressive enough, Shemilt’s novel immediately soared into the Sunday Times bestseller list. It is one of Richard and Judy’s Autumn 2014 Book Club titles and the TV rights have already been snapped up.
Actually, I’m not surprised by any of this. Not only is Shemilt’s book beautifully written, it’s one of the most gripping stories I’ve read in a long time.
When I scanned the book’s blurb and saw that Daughter is about the disappearance of a teenage girl I was slightly apprehensive, not sure that I wanted to read it.
But after finishing the first page there was no way in hell I could put it down. Shemilt’s portrayal of a family battling to cope with every parent’s worst nightmare is haunting, tragic and utterly convincing. The characters are so well drawn that I could picture each of them in my mind’s eye – from Jenny, the mother who picks apart every facet of her daughter’s life in her quest for the truth, to Ted, her husband, who is keeping quite a few secrets of his own.
And at the heart of the novel is the missing girl herself – Naomi, who bites her nails, has just starred in the school production of West Side Story and has a hidden life her mother never knew about.
The book switches back and forth in time, from the days leading up to Naomi going missing to a year later, when Jenny’s whole life has been blown apart. If it sounds confusing, it isn’t at all. It’s moving, shocking, insightful – and just when you reckon you’ve guessed the denouement you realise that you haven’t at all.
Daughter by Jane Shemilt (Penguin, £7.99)