Haynes, Elizabeth - 'Human Remains'
Elizabeth Haynes' work goes from strength to strength. HUMAN REMAINS is her third book and is also by far her best work yet. As well-written and absorbing as her earlier two novels, this one goes a few steps further and is even more hard hitting. It is written mostly from the viewpoint of the book's two main characters, who take alternate chapters to tell you things from their points of view. These chapters are sometimes interspersed with shorter sections that give voice to some of the poor souls that are found dead throughout the book. What they have to say, and why they have ended their lives, is heartbreaking.
The book focuses cleverly on what is probably the biggest fear of those of us who live alone - dying alone and only being found several months later. Annabel, one of the two central characters, is a quirky and unsure lady who lives with her cat and shies away from human contact outside of work. Her life is changed forever when she smells something nasty coming from next door one evening and, upon investigation, finds the decaying body of her neighbour. Annabel, who works as a civilian analyst in the police, does some digging and finds an unexpectedly high number of bodies being found several months after death in her area, but nobody else is that interested as they are all listed as suicides. She also spends a lot of time looking after her mother and when the old lady becomes sick and dies, poor Annabel loses her grip on life for a while.
The other main character is Colin, another loner, who lives in a huge house all by himself while his ailing mother is confined to nursing home. Colin was strange and isolated while growing up, shunned by his peers and abused by his mother, and in adulthood he is definitely very strange indeed. He has one friend but seems happy with his situation, although he would like a girlfriend and is attending courses at college in order to help him relate to people better.
The turn that this book takes, and the reminder it sends out that living alone means dying alone too, are at times rather shocking but also extremely addictive. If you like books that get into your head then this is definitely one for you. It will keep you up late and make you look at your own situation at the same time. In all, HUMAN REMAINS is one of the most interesting books I have read for a long time and has an ending that I didn't even come close to guessing.
Extremely highly recommended.
Amanda C M Gillies, Scotland