almostmoon.jpgby Alice Sebold
Little, Brown and Company
In shops on 16 October

Helen Knightly, the narrator of Alice Sebold’s eagerly anticipated second novel—I know it is eagerly anticipated because I was stopped more than once as I read on the subway by women asking me how I got an advanced copy—has murdered her mentally-ill 88 year-old mother.   From this first violent act, Helen’s life spirals almost out of control as she must deal with reality in the present while dredging up memories of growing up with a deranged mother and a mysterious father.  As an aging nude model for art classes in a community college and a mother of two grown daughters of her own, Helen is not quite prepared for what has happened, and enlists the help of her ex-husband who unwittingly becomes an accomplice in her crime.  The story unfolds over the course of 24 hours, but it is Helen’s fractured memories where the meat of the novel lies as Sebold explores the tenuous and complex relationships between mothers, daughters and sacrifice. Sebold is clearly a good writer, as she effortlessly dances between past and present, and allows us to empathize with a protagonist who, by all rights, should not be likeable.  I found myself entranced by the book until the contrived final act, which plays out more like a public service announcement about mental illness than anything else.  I suppose one could make an argument that it is the journey that’s more important than the destination, but ultimately when you set out for Vegas and end up in Atlantic City, you are bound to feel a bit unsatisfied.