I basically ended up reading this book by accident. When I took it out of the library, I thought it was the book upon which the French TV series, The Returned, is based. Turns out, it’s nothing to do with that show, although a novel has been written based on the French TV show by Seth Patrick which I now have a copy of through NetGalley. This novel actually inspired a different American TV show called Resurrection. But, once I established all this I figured I may as well read it anyway. And I’m glad I did, because it’s a little beauty of a book.
“Jacob was time out of sync, time more perfect than it had been. He was life the way it was supposed to be all those years ago. That’s what all the Returned were.”
This is the quote used in the book’s synopsis, and it’s a gorgeous quote which sums up the situation well. The Returned are people who died. They’re suddenly coming back.
The story focuses on Harold and Lucille Hargreave, an elderly couple who lost their son 50 years before. The two have grieved and moved on from their loss, gradually settling comfortably into old age. Until one day, their son Jacob turns up on their doorstep; perfect and unchanged – just like he was on the day he disappeared.
Jacob is not a one-off, but simply used as the main crux of the novel – the author repeatedly emphasises “It was happening like this all over.” But the new-found family of three are undoubtedly the focus of the novel, and Mott really breathes life into these characters. I was a bit nervous concerned that I wouldn’t find much to associate with with an elderly couple, but Harold and Lucille are instantly loveable – Harold a curmudgeonly, atheist old man with his fair share of bad habits, Lucille a strong Christian and lover of words, with a strict outlook on life. The two’s banter and verbal sparring was a pleasure to read, and their differences just bring them closer together. Their relationship renews faith in lasting love.
This novel has received really mixed reviews, and I think what you’ll get out of it depends on how you go into it. No doubt, the Returned are a supernatural phenomenon, but this isn’t really a paranormal or fantasy novel. It’s grounded in realism and, at it’s core, the story is a drama and an examination of people’s reactions in extreme crisis. It explores how people could react when when the natural order of things is disrupted, thrown into disarray. Losing people is a part of life, and the grieving process is understood. What happens when all of that is reversed? Can people who have grown up and moved on accept a piece of their past reappearing in their lives years later? I found the concept fascinating, and the writer explores it with wit and prowess.
The novel doesn’t just look at the emotional consequences, but also the effect this could have on society. As it seems that more and more of the dead are returning, there are practical issues to be considered. The government need to step in to house people, and as the phenomenon continues communities are torn apart. Between the Returned and the True Living, there are just too many people, and Mott does a great job of capturing the rapidly-expanding community of a small town, and the rebellion and chaos which ensues.
In this book, there are a lot of questions left unanswered. Where were the Returned before they came back? Why did they come back? If you’re looking for a story which neatly wraps everything up at the end, then maybe this isn’t for you. Jason Mott doesn’t give you all the answers, but he might prompt you to question your own life, and consider your own loved ones. The Returned is a powerful, emotional novel with a unique remise and heart-wrenchingly realistic characters, and I really enjoyed it.