By Sara Foster
Publisher/Year: Simon & Schuster/2019
Lizzie Burdett was eighteen when she vanished.
Noah Carruso has never forgotten her. She was his first crush, his unrequited love. She was also his brother’s girlfriend.
Tom Carruso hasn’t been home in over a decade. He left soon after Lizzie disappeared under a darkening cloud of suspicion, and now he’s back for the inquest into Lizzie’s death – intent on telling his side of the story.
As the inquest looms, Noah meets Alice Pryce on holiday. They fall for each other fast and hard, but Noah can’t bear to tell Alice his deepest fears. And Alice is equally stricken because she carries a terrible secret of her own.
Is the truth worth telling if it will destroy everything?
Reviewer: Marie Carruthers
When Noah Carruso goes on a getaway holiday to Thailand, he has no idea he will meet the woman of his dreams. Alice Pryce bears a striking resemblance to someone close to Noah’s heart. But can they overcome the difficulties they face in order to pursue a relationship?
You Don’t Know Me is Sara Foster’s sixth stand-alone novel and contains all the elements of a compelling thriller. The writer sets a rapid pace, skipping life’s boring bits and drilling down on the drama.
Foster moved to Perth, WA from England but has always had ties with Australia. She was an editor for Harper Collins before turning to writing novels and was one of the original editors of the Kids’ Night In book series, a fundraiser for the ‘War Child’ organisation.
From the opening pages, the image of a missing woman’s strand of red hair lodged in the bark of ‘a ragged bloodwood tree’ lingers in the reader’s mind as the plot progresses. The writing style is sparse in descriptive elements, yet pinpoints with uncanny precision the psychological states of the main characters; in particular, the conflicts they have with themselves.
The main characters are people we like. Noah still holds a candle for the missing girlfriend of his brother. Lizzie Burdett vanished twelve years ago after a fight with Tom. Noah still harbours guilt for not acting to rescue her on the night. The upcoming coronial inquiry will test competing versions of events.
Alice has her own issues and is teaching in Thailand to get away from a bad scenario at home. She is an avid rock-climber, whereas Noah is averse to heights. As they come together in something of a hurry, without knowing much about each other, they must tread carefully.
To provide backstory Foster uses a local journo’s podcast to which the protagonists listen. This device is effective in weaving together the past and present. On Noah’s return to coastal Bellhaven, the family dynamic, constructed around Lizzie’s disappearance and the Carruso restaurant, will build to an explosive climax.
With gripping language, Foster is an expert in the ‘show, don’t tell’ form of exposition. For example, we learn a lot about Noah and his mother in the car on the way back from the airport:
“He exhales. ‘I met someone.’
The car lurches momentarily to the left as his mother’s gaze swings towards him. ‘You met someone? You mean a girl?’
He laughs. ‘No, a Martian…’”
The story unfolds in present tense generating urgency to the narrative. With a light brush Foster hints at what is to come, ramping up the suspense by withholding each character’s secrets. For instance, after Alice listens to some of the podcast it brings up her own issues: “She shudders. Why is she dwelling on this? It isn’t good for her, when she knows firsthand that after trauma, nothing returns to the way it was.” The reader’s imagination is engaged by a pleasurable desire to fill in the gaps.
The chronological third person narration is clear and, frankly, a relief from multiple viewpoints. We still get the characters’ points of view and understand what makes them tick. As the story progresses, the characters gradually apprehend the weight and damage of their secrets.
When the story builds to an astonishing climax, the plot resolved with a gratifying denouement, and the subversion of expectation shocks the reader.
While the anxiety and trauma depicted is not privileged by any ideological or political prerogative, this is not to say that the novel is perfunctory. Rather, it becomes a detailed examination of states of being with which we identify.
Foster writes with complete mastery of the psychological drama underpinning her fictional characters. You Don’t Know Me will grab you from the opening pages and leave you wanting more.
Foster also shares a section on her website called ‘The Author’s Mindset’, which provides some fascinating motivation topics for aspiring writers.