by Louise Jensen
‘Nearly six months ago, someone died so I can live.’
After suffering a virus infection that damaged the muscles of her heart, Jenna needed a transplant. Now she is recovering. She ditches her boyfriend Sam and, against the advice of her doctors and her friends, is planning to visit the donor’s family. Not only have Tom and Amanda lost Callie in a road accident but their younger daughter Sophie has disappeared. They seem just a normal couple doing their best to deal with a tragedy and they welcome Jenna as being a bit of Callie that lives on.
Jenna’s recovery is hampered by dizzy spells, blackouts and strange dreams. And her mental condition is not improved by a visit to a medium. The medical team, including her therapist Vanessa, put this down to the medication. They diagnose anxiety and post-operative PTSD. However, Jenna is not so sure. She has been reading up on a phenomenon called Cellular Memory and believes the dead Callie is trying to tell her something, namely that she (Callie) was murdered. Jenna compiles a dossier of newspaper cuttings and photographs and sets about discovering the truth.
‘ “Callie died in a car accident,” Tom says. Amanda’s face crumples from within as though her cheekbones have been removed, and she begins to rock back and forth on her chair.’
At this point in the story, the reader is forced to consider several scenarios. Is Jenna simply an unreliable narrator? By her own admission, she is certainly behaving oddly and out of character. So is she paranoid? Is all this ‘stuff’ just going on in her head because she is heavily medicated? Are we dealing with the supernatural here, or could it be there really is some substance to her dreams? Is Jenna actually remembering episodes in Callie’s life?
As other characters are introduced, we begin to suspect there could be something quite sinister going on here. Perhaps, after all, Jenna is catching glimpses of Callie memories. There is Nathan, Callie’s fiancé, who seems a really nice guy. But is he hiding something? Then there is Owen, the missing father of Sam’s young half-brother. Are the two connected in some way and if so how?
‘…. clawing at my scarf with both hands I scream, muscles tensed, waiting for the feel of hot breath on my neck, but there is only the sound of cotton ripping…’
Jenna’s supposed paranoia begins to take on a more ‘solid’ feel when her flat is burgled and she is left threatening messages to ‘stop digging. Things are going wrong at her work and she is blamed. Eventually, the trail leads to a nail-biting conclusion in a derelict caravan park at the seaside where Tom, Amanda and their girls have spent many happy holidays.
Being trained as a scientist, I confess that the supernatural is a subject I treat with considerable scepticism. When it comes to Cellular Memory, I am equally doubting; the evidence is anecdotal and I have seen no empirical scientific evidence to support it. So, though I began reading The Gift with high expectations, I did wonder if it would hold my interest. Could Louise Jensen’s second novel possibly deliver the same tension, the same psychological tension, the same impact, as her first, The Sister?
I needn’t have worried and was quickly drawn into the intriguing plot and its clever twists. [After all, one needn’t believe in vampires to enjoy Stoker’s Dracula, or Klingons and Vulcans to enjoy the Star Trek universe.] Jensen has a talent for leading the reader down unexpected paths, and of delivering protagonists one can never be sure are totally reliable. The Gift is a worthy successor to its predecessor.
‘I know now what Callie has been trying to tell me: [spoiler] killed her, and I don’t think she’ll rest until he pays. God, I’m going to make him pay.’