She wants to keep the key to the door of this life she has had such a small taste of…
On a rainy afternoon Alice comes across a man on her beach. The man, named “Frank” by the youngest of Alice’s three children, has lost himself—his name, his place, his past. Against her better judgment and the judgment of her neighbors, Alice takes him in, slowly coming to love the man before her, even as they both strive to find out who that is exactly. Simultaneously, Ukranian Lily Monrose, the twenty-one year old newly-arrived bride of Carl, is reporting her husband missing. Put off by the police, Lily takes matters into her own hands, looking for her husband while simultaneously navigating her new world of London with its unusual inhabitants.
Interspersed with the modern story is the tale of Gray and Kirsty, a teenage brother and sister on summer holiday who meet and fall into the web of Mark, a boy more complicated than anyone realizes.
Structure and Characters
I Found You has an interesting structure in that while it is a mystery/thriller, the twist is revealed well before the end of the book, leaving over an hour of the recording (I listened to this one on audiobook) to wrap up. This structure could be listless and dragging if Jewell hadn’t developed her characters with such depth that I felt compelled to find out what happened to them. It is one of the main strengths of this book that Jewell develops her characters so compellingly that even outside of the mystery and the twist, the reader is hooked by the relationships. Will Lily find her husband and, if so, what will happen to her? Will Alice wind up with Frank? In fact, Jewell does such an excellent job putting her characters forefront that the twist was all the more shocking for its darkness—I had almost forgotten I was reading a book that had been compared to The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl. (Both books, by the way, that I absolutely hated. Can we retire comparing books to those two yet? Take heart, you too can love this book if you hated those.)
Strangers and Being Found
In I Found You, everyone is a stranger. Alice is a refugee to Ridinghouse Bay, seeking quiet and solitude after a tumultuous life (both generally and romantically). Frank, by virtue of having no idea of who he is, is quiet literally a stranger to everyone, including himself. Lily as the recent immigrant is strange to everyone around her. Gray is the quintessential teenage boy, finding himself, but lonely and adrift in the way only teenagers can be. Carl and Mark are both strangers even, or especially, to those who know them.
In some ways this is a relief. Strange does not have to mean bad or even that one will always be lonely. Some strangers are dangerous, but not everyone is and some strangers are worth taking risks to welcome. Which leads to the title—if everyone is a stranger, then everyone is waiting to be found. Indeed, there are at least seven combinations of characters finding each other in an overlapping scheme that could each give impetus to the title here. I love that Jewell leaves who found whom ambiguous.
One of the things I appreciated most about I Found You was Jewell’s ability to make me identify with and care about someone who is nothing like me. Alice makes bad choices. Alice watches the telly rather than reading books. Alice lives somewhat messily. Alice is almost nothing like me and yet I loved her and rooted for her. It’s rare I can be made to care deeply about someone that I cannot find a single thing in common with and it speaks to Jewell as a writer to be able to develop her so gently and so well. Additionally, if you had asked me before I read this book, I would not have believed that you could convince me that a likeable, mostly rational character would invite a total stranger to live in her house and yet, Jewell made that choice fit into who Alice is. Of course Alice would invite Frank in and, of course, the reader will love her for it.
I admit that I particularly enjoy getting audiobooks when the reader is foreign, even where the original language is still English. There’s something fun about listening to a British accent telling the story, describing people in their jumpers eating scones (ok…I’ll stop). The audio for I Found You is voiced by Helen Duff, who does an excellent job. Because so much of the story is told (particularly at the beginning) around Alice’s point of view, I came to hear her voice as Alice’s, drawing me closer to her as a character. Since Alice is nothing like me and makes choices I wouldn’t make (hello bringing in strange amnesiac living on the beach), this extra level of connection to Alice was valuable to me as a reader/listener. She also does an excellent job with Lily’s Ukranian-accented English. Duff’s voice is melodic and soothing for an audiobook without being so soothing that one loses what’s going on. (We’ve all been there right? The voice is so soothing you stop paying attention to the actual words and have no idea what is happening.) The cadence and rise and fall of Duff’s voice were a perfect selection for I Found You and make this book particularly fun as an audiobook.
I will start by saying that I am particularly sensitive to people using mental illness as a plot device and it is almost never something I think is done well. With that out of the way, it irked me to no end that the villain in this case was described at one point as mentally ill. While it is true that sociopathy and psychopathy are in the DSM V, these are personality disorders which should be distinguished from things like bipolar disorder and even schizophrenia. We’ve come to believe and accept that sociopaths and psychopaths are dangerous (a gross generalization as well) and when those groups are lumped in with general mental illness, we’ve created a culture that believes having any mental illness automatically means you’re dangerous. In fact only 3-5% of violent crimes are committed by people with mental illness. On the contrary, having a mental illness makes you more likely to be the victim of a crime than a perpetrator.
To a lesser extent, I had trouble believing some of Lily’s actions. She is supposed to be a brand new immigrant, only twenty-one and married to someone almost twice her age. While I did not think she had to be a shrinking violet (and was glad she wasn’t), her choices and decisions made me forget how young and new-to-the-country she was supposed to be. While Jewell has points of her character development that remind you of her age—her grocery store run for what is ultimately 90% junk food—overall, she was a bit too capable and old-sounding to be the almost child-bride she was supposed to be. This may also have been as a contrast to Alice, whose character was developed so well that it highlighted ways in which Lily wasn’t as much.
For a book with as many twists and turns as this one—no one’s real life is actually like this, right?—Jewell does well to conclude the story in a way that is satisfactory without being too neat and tidy. At some point in a book like this, everyone’s hands have gotten too dirty for everything to end happily ever after, something Jewell seems to recognize. In that way, it would be easy to end this book earlier, to leave the reader hanging. The story itself is messy enough (in terms of action, not in terms of Jewell’s writing or story development) that it would be plausible for no one to have a happy ending. It is a credit to Jewell that in addition to hooking the reader with her characters, she then cares enough about them and us to allow us some resolution without completely losing the plot. There may be some who think the story ends implausibly; however, I didn’t find it any more implausible than the rest of the book. (I need to think things like this are implausible. I need to think that people like Amy in Gone Girl and certain characters in I Found You are not actually running around out there.)
I Found You is great for the beach or a dark and stormy summer night on the veranda. It’s never going to be read for a literature class, but it’s not trying to be high literature. I love books like this for a palate cleanser when I’ve been reading things that are heavier. I Found You is an excellent contribution to its genre.
Published: April 25, 2017 by Atria Books (@atriabooks)
Author: Lisa Jewell (@jewellwrites)
Date Read: June 26, 2017 (by Hoopla audiobook)
Rating: 3 ¾ stars