Desert Isle Keeper
The Girl I Used to Be
I heard a lot of positive things about Gone Without a Trace, the début novel from author Mary Torjussen. The synopsis looked intriguing, so I added it to my enormous list of books to read, but avid readers know how this goes. Newer books came along, and before too long, Gone Without a Trace got buried. So, when Ms. Torjussen’s latest novel – The Girl I Used to Be – came up for review, I leapt at the chance to give it a try, and I’m very glad I did.
If you were a casual friend of Gemma Brogan’s, you might think she was living the perfect life. She owns a successful real estate firm, lives in a fancy neighborhood, and has a devoted husband and adorable young son. You probably wouldn’t guess that Gemma is searching for a way to bring more meaning to what she sees as a life that has lost some of its luster. Sure, her husband Joe stays home with their son while Gemma works and her friends tell her she’s the luckiest woman alive to be married to a man who supports her hopes and dreams so completely, but all Gemma can think about is the fact that he rarely does the housework. Plus, she’s beginning to feel like a bit of an outsider in four-year-old Rory’s life.
A business trip out-of-town seems like the perfect way for Gemma to take some time away from the stresses of her home life and possibly gain some much-needed perspective, but once she arrives at the hotel, she realizes that perhaps time away isn’t what she needs after all. She feels incredibly lonely, so she agrees to have dinner with a prospective client in an attempt to get her mind off things. Unfortunately, Gemma drinks too much, and when she wakes up the following morning, she is unable to remember much about the previous evening.
Gemma returns home and tries hard to carry on normally. Work keeps her pretty busy, and there seems to be quite a bit of tension between her and Joe. And then, strange things begin to happen, things that seem to be mementos of the night Gemma spent away from home. A picture of her kissing her dinner companion is mailed to her office, and a video of her complaining about Joe’s laziness is emailed to her. Who is behind these things, and what are they trying to accomplish?
As time passes and more odd things occur, Gemma begins to lose her grip on reality. She’s no longer sure what is real and what is a figment of her imagination, and she isn’t sure how to find out. All she knows is that she must keep Joe from discovering what’s going on, but how can she do that when she has no idea who is behind it all?
The Girl I Used to Be is everything I love in a good mystery. The main character is completely unreliable, making it hard to know who to trust. In other genres, this would be off-putting, but it works very well in a strongly-crafted psychological thriller like this one. There are little nuggets of truth mixed in with all Gemma’s skewed perceptions, and I had a great time trying to piece them together into something that made sense. Of course, I ended up being wrong about most of it, but that was part of the fun of reading this book.
The story takes a very unexpected turn about halfway through, and I kicked myself for not anticipating it – it was as though the author had laid out all these clues for me that I just hadn’t interpreted properly. There’s a part of me that wants to reread the book just to see if I pick up on them the second time around; I love it when a book catches me off guard that way. I read a lot of mysteries, and I’m sometimes frustrated by how predictable some of them can be, so I was thrilled that this one was able to surprise me again and again.
Ms. Torjussen does a wonderful job creating the kinds of characters the reader might know in real life. I didn’t find any of them to be the least bit two-dimensional. Even the villain ended up having quite a lot of depth, something that doesn’t always happen. It’s not that I necessarily want to relate to the antagonist, but I want to find him or her believable. I want the bad things they do to make some sort of sense, and Ms. Torjussen delivers in spades.
Now that I read and loved The Girl I Used to Be, I’m going to make a concerted effort to sit down with the author’s first novel. If it’s even half as good as this one turned out to be, I’ll be very pleased.