In the hands of Jenny Quintana, ‘The Missing Girl’ is a real page-turner that steps between past and present, effectively evoking the struggle of the 1980s middle class in Britain.
Here’s a tale that centres around a significant event: from one perspective right before it happens (and the immediate impact thereafter); and from another perspective 30 years’ hence. In unpacking it as a work of fiction, The Missing Girl is a novel which encapsulates the tropes of detective fiction, of a whodunit, of a distressing memoir, and any other number of generic types. But it is, at the end of the day, a drawn-out meditation on the importance of closure, and the impact family has on children; the stress that it has as time wears on.
Debut author Jenny Quintana jumps back and forth from “present day” to 1982. It is, as far as literary tropes are concerned, a well-trodden technique. And it takes a neatly-paralleled story arc to enable the twin narratives to pay dividends. In the case of The Missing Girl, it’s a conceit that pays off, mostly out of Quintana’s ability to inform both voices (Anna the child, and adult woman) with a unique set of characteristics, but maintaining a singular voice.
It is a grim tale being told, one of a teenager’s disappearance, and potential murder. Grim, not necessarily for the content being particularly gruesome in any way through much of it (the hoary details are revealed towards the end), but the book is one which finds through its first person narrator a way of placing the reader within a particularly small distance from raw emotions. Anna, the central character, has had to spend the better part of her life dealing with loss, and it’s through the unfolding “present day” chapters of the narrative that she slowly, but surely, winds her way towards closure. One might presume it to be an emotionally healthy outcome for her, but the journey is a tough one.
Quintana’s writing speaks with great authority about the time and place; her details effectively evoke a simple middle-class English upbringing in the early ’80s. And the book also speaks a great deal of emotional truth from the perspective of the adult protagonist bearing witness to the events unfolding in two separate timeframes.
Though not without faults (it’s a far superior book than its uninspired title would suggest), it does have behind it the authoritative stamp of an author who clearly knows how to construct and deliver an engaging, page-turning read.