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Review – No One You Know by Michelle Richmond

no one you know

No One You Know
by Michelle Richmond
320 pages
Published June 24, 2008 (paperback published May 19, 2009)
Fiction

Last year I read The Year of Fog and absolutely loved it. I was thrilled to see Michelle Richmond on a panel at Book Group Expo in 2008, and her newest book, No One You Know, had recently been released, so I quickly picked it up.

No One You Know is about Ellie, whose sister, Lila, was murdered 20 years ago. The murderer was never caught, though one of Ellie’s teachers, Andrew Thorpe, wrote a true crime book about the murder that suggested the murderer was Lila’s lover, Peter McConnell. This true crime book has haunted Lila for the past 20 years, defining who she was and who she’s become. She’s finally decided to try and figure out why her sister was murdered after she encounters Peter McConnell during a coffee buying trip in Nicaragua. Ellie learns more about her sister while interviewing people who knew her than she ever thought she’d actually know.

Ellie had felt really close to Lila, even though Lila was a mathematician and Ellie wasn’t interested in math. Lila’s murder makes Ellie wonder how well she really did know her sister, and Thorpe’s book only magnifies the sisters’ differences. Lila’s murder changes the family, changes Ellie: “But no matter how well-adjusted a family may be, no matter how hard its individual members try to move on, grief is not a thing that can simply be managed. The shape of our family had changed.”

One of the most heart-wrenching parts of this book is Ellie’s confession that she thinks if she had been the one to die, her family would have bounced back easier than when it was Lila who died: “I wished, at that moment, that I could have traded places with Lila. I imagined a scenario in which my mother’s grief was smaller, more manageable, a scenario in which she had not lost her brilliant eldest daughter. Surely, if she’d only lost me, the recovery would have been quicker, the devastation less complete. Perhaps the family would have inched closer together rather than farther apart.”

The title could arguably refer to many things. In the book, when Ellie asks Lila why she’d gotten a tattoo of two doughnuts, Lila tells Ellie that someone dared her, and when Ellie asks who, Lila responds, “No one you know.” But is the title referring to this mysterious person in Lila’s life, or is it referring to the fact that Lila ultimately was no one Ellie knew? Perhaps the title is referring to Ellie herself, that Ellie doesn’t even know who she herself is. It is after finding out who her sister was that she ultimately comes to peace with herself.

There’s an interesting theme in No One You Know about storytelling. You can see the way that Ellie changes throughout the story just by looking at how she talks about storytelling:

Every story is an invention, subject to the whims of the author. For the audience on the other side of the page, the words march forward with a certain inevitability — as if the story could exist one way only, the way in which it is written. But there is never just one way to tell a story. Someone has chosen the beginning and end. Someone has chosen who will emerge as the hero or heroine, and who will play the villain. Each choice is made at the expense of an infinite number of variations. Who is to say which version of the story is true?

Stories aren’t set in stone. It took me the longest time to realize this.

Every story is flawed, every story is subject to change. Even after it is set down in print, between the covers of a book, a story is not immune to alteration. People can go on telling it in their own way, remembering it the way they want. And in each telling the ending may change, or even the beginning. Inevitably, in some cases it will be worse, and in others it just might be better. A story, after all, does not only belong to the one who is telling it. It belongs, in equal measure, to the one who is listening.

I was saddened to find that I didn’t like No One You Know near as much as I liked The Year of Fog. For some reason, I never really connected with Ellie, though I certainly felt compassion for her. I do feel compelled to say that I think Richmond’s writing is fantastic! She has one of those easy styles that is at once easy to read yet literary. She definitely knows how to put a story together, but I just didn’t like this story. This story felt meandering and I wasn’t always sure I understood where it was going..

One of the issues I had with the book, other than not connecting with the main character, was that the issue of storytelling was so prevalent (as I mentioned), and one of the things that’s discussed is how Andrew Thorpe wrote his book with the ending in mind, and how that isn’t right, yet it’s my understanding (and I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure this is what the author said while on a panel at Book Group Expo) that Michelle Richmond controls her characters, they don’t control the story, so isn’t she doing what Andrew Thorpe was doing: ultimately writing with the end already in place?

I’m totally bummed I didn’t like this book, but I will eagerly await Richmond’s next book and snatch it off the shelves.

Rating: 79 out of 100

Buy No One You Know from Powell’s | Amazon

Michelle Richmond’s website

Other reviews:

The Bluestocking Society

Musings of a Bookish Kitty

A Striped Armchair

she reads and reads

lit*chick

The 3 R’s: Reading, ‘Riting, and Randomness

Presenting Lenore

Breaking the Spine

| Tags: , , , , 12 comments »

12 Responses to “Review – No One You Know by Michelle Richmond”

  1. Lenore

    Maybe you just weren’t in the right mood for it? I adored it – especially all the musings on storytelling – and I was pretty sure you would too. Oh well!

    [Reply]

  2. diane

    I enjoyed the audio version of this book. I believe my rating was 4/5. Great review!

    [Reply]

  3. zibilee

    Great review! Even though you didn’t love the book, it seems that you really delved deeply into it and had some pretty interesting insights about the characters and their motivations, so it sounds like it wasn’t a total loss. I think this is the most thoughtful review I have read about this particular book so far. Thanks!

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    Thanks, Zibilee! Your compliment means a lot to me, because I *did* put a lot of thought into this before I decided it wasn’t for me, and I always try to back up my opinions with reasoning. :)

    [Reply]

  4. Kathy

    You’re not the first person I’ve seen say No One You know doesn’t live up to The Year of the Fog. I haven’t read either one, but think I’d like to try Year of the Fog first.

    [Reply]

  5. Staci

    I haven’t read either one of her books but I want to. Maybe her next release will be the one for you!

    [Reply]

  6. Beth F

    Excellent review. I’m going to put Year of the Fog on my wish list. I’m glad you’re not giving up on the author.

    [Reply]

  7. Keith S. Wilson

    First, this really is an excellent review. You said you didn’t like it, but you went into the book so well that I STILL want to read it. There is a vast difference between expressing an opinion and trashing a work, and I think I’m so used to the latter that I am still caught a little off guard. haha.

    The idea that people who love you would be less upset if you died instead of someone else who did is such a sad, and human thought, and what gets me is that in many ways, it could very well be true. There are some people we are just closer to, there’s nothing we can do about that. It’s one of those horrible things that I think is best left unsaid or thought about, as hard as it is for me to cope with that.

    -keith
    http://keithswilson.blogspot.com/

    [Reply]

  8. Keith S. Wilson

    Oh, I wanted to ask. Would you, then, consider the style ‘literary?’

    -keith
    http://keithswilson.blogspot.com/

    [Reply]

  9. natalie @ book, line, and sinker

    oh gosh! i only skimmed your review because i just started this one–i lent it to my mom first and she couldn’t put it down! i’m bummed that you didn’t love it. :( i guess it’s true that no two people read a book the same way…

    miss you, by the way! hope all is well.

    [Reply]

  10. Barbara LH

    I follow and enjoy your blog — since we met at Book Group Expo last year.

    About Michelle Richmond’s books:
    As my husband says, “There’s no accounting for taste.”
    My reaction was opposite of yours.
    I thought the ending of The Year of Fog was too pat, too easy BUT I loved No One You Knew — because of the the storytelling theme. As a reader, writer, and psychotherapist I am fascinated by multiple narratives and the ways that personal stories can change. I think No One You Know explored that idea well.

    [Reply]

  11. Lisa

    I have The Year of Fog in my TBR pile and it looks like I need to get to it soon because I think this one needs to go in it’s place!

    [Reply]

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