The Premise: Shelby’s life has been destroyed by the accident that left her best friend, Helene, in a coma. Haunted by the role she played in what happened, Shelby rejects anyone who is nice to her, shaves her head and lives in the basement of her parents’ house. Most of the novel is about her attempt to slowly put her life back together and deal with her guilt.
Happy Bookworm: I’m a big fan of Alice Hoffman; it’s been a while since I’ve read any of her books, having slowly accumulated a large collection from the good old charity shops of Yorkshire. Like her other books, Faithful makes you care about the characters, even when their behaviour is terrible; Shelby’s guilt makes her behave horribly, but somehow Hoffman invests her with enough pathos to keep the reader on her side. There’s an increasingly important subplot in which a mystery correspondent sends Shelby postcards with messages on to keep her going, and I found this aspect of the book quite lovely. Hoffman effectively shows the complexity of Shelby’s survivor’s guilt, and the subtle ways in which the writer presents her gradual recovery work really well. I felt very emotionally invested in Shelby’s story, as well as the lives of those around her.
Sad Bookworm: I was hoping for a little more of the magical realism I’ve enjoyed so much in other Hoffman novels, like The Story Sisters or Practical Magic. Helene receives many visitors who believe that, somehow, in her comatose state, she can heal them of their sicknesses and worries, but Helene herself isn’t a sufficiently significant presence in the novel for this to be developed. I know some people really enjoy reading sad books, in which case this is a perfect read; Shelby goes through a lot of emotional pain before anything nice begins to happen, and, as I turned each page, I wondered what misery was awaiting me. As I’ve said, I was emotionally invested, but I was also quite miserable, which is not something I particularly enjoy. I actively avoid the work of Jodi Picoult, but Faithful did remind me a little of the two Picoult books I’ve endured and the reasons I won’t return to her writing.
In Conclusion: Hoffman is an excellent and prolific writer, and, while Faithful doesn’t fully reflect the themes and quality of her other books, it’s still a novel I’d recommend, unless you’re looking for a pick-me-up, in which case step away now.