I chose The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. because I fancied an easy beach-style read. Nichole Bernier’s debut novel concerns two families, the Martins and the Spensers, in the wake of Mrs Elizabeth’s Martin’s tragic plane-crash death just before the 9/11 disaster. In her will, Elizabeth has requested that her trunk of journals go to her friend Kate Spenser in the event of her demise and the book opens with Kate dutifully visiting Elizabeth’s widower, Dave, to collect the trunk.
Just before Kate leaves, Dave mentions that Elizabeth left her most recent diary on the nightstand before she left to catch her plane, and his reading of it suggested she was flying, not to an art retreat as she told them both, but to meet a man called Michael. The suggestion that Elizabeth was having an affair hangs heavy in the air but Kate finds the prospect of such a betrayal impossible to comprehend. Surely not Elizabeth, doting super-mum and cheerful, considerate housewife – the all-baking, all-loving leader of the playgroup who gently organised the lives of everyone around her – including Kate. But when Kate begins to delve into the diaries, much to the resentment of Dave Martin and the frustration of her husband, Chris, who rather thinks she should mind her own business, she finds that there was more to Elizabeth than she ever expected and the diaries open up all sorts of questions about her own life and what it means to truly know someone and be known in return.
Although I chose this book on its beach-read potential merit, it actually had a lot more depth than I had expected. The characters were authentic and sensitively drawn, the writing was elegant and emotive and the story was a real page-turner. If you are nosy like me and you love the thought of poking around in someone’s diary but have enough sense not to go poking around in the private affairs of people you actually know, then this book is for you.
Bernier covers the full range of emotions here and she writes intelligently about the big topics – intimacy, love, fear, death – and the nuances of human interaction. There are twists, turns, and moments where you don’t know which way the book will go; I found it hard not to be drawn in to the world of the diaries.
Bernier’s novel inhabits the world of secrecy that exists inside everyone and explores the idea that everyone has a private mental landscape and things they don’t care to share, or that they’re afraid to say out loud. A fascinating examination of the difference between the secret soul and the public facade, The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. is much more than just an easy, beach-friendly read, and Nichole Bernier is an author well worth watching out for.