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Misplaced Persons
by Susan Beale
Review

Cover image of the book 'Misplaced Persons' by author Susan Beale

MISPLACED PERSONS

Cover image of the book 'Misplaced Persons' by author Susan BealeThe Yardley family is fracturing.

Eighteen years since their move to Brussels and the future is clouded with uncertainty for Neil, a Brit, American Marcy and their three Belgian-born children.

Wrapped up in their own worries, Neil and Marcy fail to see how much their middle child, Alec, is struggling.

When Marcy offers shelter to a young Syrian refugee, it triggers an explosive train of events that affects every member of the family.

Against a backdrop of growing terror threats and Europe’s worst refugee crisis since the Second World War, Misplaced Persons astutely explores miscues and misunderstandings, the strength of family bonds and the meaning of home.

Cover image of the book 'Misplaced Persons' by author Susan Beale

SUSAN BEALE

Image of author Susan BealeSusan Beale’s first novel, The Good Guy, sold at auction to John Murray and was shortlisted for the 2016 Costa First Novel Award. Set in New England in the years leading up to the sexual revolution, the book explores the human capacity for deception, particularly self-deception.

Susan Beale was brought up on Cape Cod, has lived in Somerset, Brussels for over sixteen years, and currently resides in Amsterdam.

She is a graduate of the Bath Spa Creative Writing MA programme.

Follow Susan on Twitter

Cover image of the book 'Misplaced Persons' by author Susan Beale

FIRST LINES

NEIL

“Chloe passed the conference room’s glass wall in the direction of the elevator banks, umbrella in hand, a defence against the mid-October drizzle of Brussels. Neil watched out of the corner of one eye. It was the third time she’d passed in half an hour; they were meant to be eating a romantic lunch, at an out-of-the-way bistro. His meeting should have been over an hour ago and would have been, had any of his colleagues stayed on topic. Since the previous pass, Chloe’s stride had changed, becoming purposeful and maybe, just possibly, a bit fed up. Neil risked a furtive glance her way, hoping to convey his shared frustration. Their eyes met. Her lips flattened with displeasure as she walked on by”

Cover image of the book 'Misplaced Persons' by author Susan Beale

MEMORABLE LINES

“People talked about parents having favourite children, but no one talked about children having a favourite parent”

.

“The cats of ‘cat. quatre’ were the feel-good story of the lockdown, showcasing Belgians’ dark but irrepressible wit, their linguistic dexterity. A country with three official languages was conducting wordplay in a fourth, something that Alec, even at his most cynical, had to admit was pretty cool”

.

“She’d read that the death of a marriage is like the death of a loved one: it’s not something you get over; it’s a thing you get used to”

.

“Everyone remembered Marcy because she was interested in everyone. Aristocrat or working class, long-time friend or stranger, she wanted to know what made you tick. She believed not only that everyone had a story, but that everyone wanted to tell that story. Shyness or reticence did not deter her. Like an oystercatcher with a fresh mollusc, she pried stories out of people”

.

“How could potential harm be worse than actual harm?”

Cover image of the book 'Misplaced Persons' by author Susan Beale

REVIEW

“We’re not even a family anymore, just a bunch of misplaced persons. We don’t belong anywhere”

This book supported a good mix of content, making it both storyline and character driven in an almost even split. It also offered a real sense of time and place, making it an interesting and immersive journey for any ‘armchair travellers’ amongst you, however the many locations ( UK, US, Paris and Brussels), were only touched on briefly as an overview and in no great detail.

This story opened at a rather desolate and sad time for the Yardley family, as they were in the midst of being torn apart by a crisis with potentially far-reaching consequences. The downwards trend of their personal relationships, continued to affect their lives for much of the storyline. The air was constantly full of a tension which was palpable and I could almost feel the stresses and strains through the words on the pages, which made me quite nervous about the eventual outcome. There was just a glimmer of hope to hang my hat on by the end of the saga, although tentative olive branches were no measure of successful change just yet … so I was left only with the desire for ongoing reconciliation and understanding for the family.

The complex storyline is well structured and nuanced, making it deceptively multi-layered if you look closely beneath the veneer of self-reliance, which each member of the family has built around themselves. They are all busy trying to come to terms with their individual slices of the angst and vulnerability pie, effectively shutting each other out and isolating themselves from the relief that sharing their problems might bring to the table. For when those worries and doubts eventually bubble to the surface and overflow, which they inevitably do, no one really has the capacity, or even the will, to pick up the pieces quickly enough to avoid the potential disaster which almost overwhelms not only them, but the Brussels community in which they live and the country of Belgium they now call home, when terrorists strike at its very heart, following the Bataclan Massacre in Paris.

The adults seem so intent on espousing their own woes, that none of them notice the strain this is placing on the children and the toll it is taking on their health, especially the eldest son Alec, who feels obliged to keep his father’s secret, for fear of upsetting his mother even more and tipping her over the edge emotionally. Neil, their British father, is busy trying to keep his much younger ‘fling’ happy, whilst trying to work out how he can avoid becoming responsible for a toddler at his time of life. Marcy, their American mother, seems to have lost all sense of reason and logic and is barely holding things together for her three children on a daily basis. Very early on in this unfolding saga, she also makes a very random, knee-jerk, ill-considered decision, which piles even more pressure on the totally disturbed Alec. Whilst their daughter Sasha appears to be the strongest individual in this fractured family, everyone seems to be ignoring the most vulnerable member, Jake, who is failing in his early years education and is busy building a LEGO world around himself!

At this time of great uncertainty and suspicion, when refugees are coming increasingly under the spotlight, Marcy, despite all the problems she has within her own family, decides that taking in a young homeless Syrian male, is a really good idea. This is done without thought nor care for what her children may think and I can only assume that this is included to highlight Marcy’s near total health breakdown, as there seems little synergy between the two storylines otherwise. When Nizar’s strange behaviour only alerts Alec to even more potential discord and upset, I really did begin to feel sorry for him and was waiting for one of his parents to stop thinking only of themselves and step up for their family. On a purely personal note however, the descriptions of the charity warehouse which supported the refugee camp were very realistic and mirrored my own experiences of volunteering in a retail charity shop, in support of my local hospice. For me that added an angle to this part of the story, I could relate to and didn’t make it quite so unconnected.

Some nice length, well signposted chapters, kept the storyline seamlessly fluid, although I felt there was a lot of latent potential to have expanded and opened up the narrative considerably, without damaging its integrity, especially in light of the confident ease and assured style of writing, which author Susan Beale demonstrates, together with the genuine ‘heart’ I could tell she had  injected into her work.

Susan has created an emotionally starved and complex cast of characters, all searching for a sense of belonging, which made them difficult to connect with or invest in, although within their own limitations and vulnerabilities, they were extremely well defined and developed. She has captured wonderfully a sense of realistic and authentic family dynamics, which although not particularly engaging or comfortable to watch, is raw and passionate, genuine and believable.

I really wanted this storyline to go places, as it had great potential from the start, which only increased as the extra twists and turns were added along the way. Whilst it didn’t lose too much impetus during the telling, I definitely felt it rather lacked that overall ‘Wow! I never saw that coming’ factor. Hence my 4 stars, rather than the 5 I had anticipated awarding.

However, what makes reading such a wonderful experience, is that with every story, each reader is taken on a unique and individual journey. So I recommend you read this one for yourself and see where it leads you!

Image of author Susan Beale

A complimentary kindle download of this book for review, was made available by the publisher John Murray Press and made available by NetGalley

Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.

I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a well deserved 4 out of 5 stars!

 

Written by
Yvonne

I can’t remember a time, even as a child, when I haven’t been passionate about books and reading.
I began blogging, when I realised just how many other people out there shared my passion for the written word and I have been continually amazed at the wealth of books that are available and the amount of great new friends I have made, from literally 'The Four Corners Of The World'.

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10 comments
  • So, Neil and Chloe are having an affair, and Marcy is taking in a refugee while having 3 kids at home…o, great…woman of the year. Is it politically correct to do so or is she trying to prove something?

    • Hi Angie,

      That’s about the strength of the storyline in a nutshell, but there are quite a few more subtle issues at play too!

      There isn’t too much made of it, but it is quite obvious that Marcy’s state of mind is very fragile, so she is making very impetuous decisions, almost so that she is able to block out what is happening to her family and to keep herself busy.

      As a result, she takes her eye off the ball in the wake of the recent terrorist attacks in France and doesn’t protect or keep her own children safe, as the threats begin to take hold in surrounding countries.

      Both parents definitely put themselves before their children, especially the youngest, Jake, who is really suffering in blissful silence, with some undiagnosed learning and cognitive difficulties.

      Parents of the year? Nah! but unfortunately an increasingly familiar story and sign of the times!

      Thanks for taking time to comment and have a fantastic week 🙂

  • While it sound like this story has some very interesting aspects about it, I’m afraid it might be too angst-filled for me at this time. This is a good review, though.

    • Hi Kelly,

      Thanks for your kind words, although I’m sorry this one doesn’t appeal to you.

      I must admit that the characters of Neil and Marcy are the kind that you just want to slap in the face to make them wake up to their responsibilities as parents, although it sounds as though Neil has had more than one affair and Marcy has a few mental health issues.

      This really is more of a study of what happens to a family when it fractures and begins to fall apart, and it isn’t always pretty!

      PS. What did you think of ‘Table Manners’, it sounds really intriguing and totally different? 🙂

        • Mmm! I’ll think about that one for my ‘wish list’.

          I seem to have been in the land of ‘a bit different from my usual’ so far this year, and I am quite enjoying the journey! 🙂

  • I would be so annoyed with so many aspects of the book: their lack of interest, care, and love towards their children, a husband who has an affair and makes his child cover for him, someone who decided to bring a person with a lot of problems of their own into a family which is already struggling. This is not the book for me, that’s for sure. I would be too enraged by the end of it.

    • Hi Anca,

      I have to say that this definitely isn’t a ‘feel good’ story, by any stretch of the imagination!

      However I think that it is quite indicative of so many families in today’s society. Parents disconnected from their children and vice versa.

      In this story, both parents are totally oblivious to both the physical and emotional welfare of their three children, without the addition of a teenage asylum seeker, who seems to take over the household.

      As a one off style of occasional reading, it definitely made me think! But I can quite see that it isn’t going to appeal to everyone, and I still value that you took the time to comment 🙂

  • Wonderfully thorough review of what sounds like a book that has a lot going on, thank you.

    Whilst there are without doubt certain things about this book that appeal to me there is are several not so little voices that are holding me back.

    One of them cautioning that this might be too angst ridden for me at this moment in time.

    The loudest one worried that with so much going on I might obsess over the smallest details thus lose track of the picture as a whole.

    Wishing you a good weekend, with cooler temperatures being forecast I don’t know about you but I’m hoping for a better nights sleep.

    • Hi Felicity,

      I have to agree that this isn’t a very plot driven storyline, which is in fact, I have to admit, quite weak.

      The characters are definitely centre stage of the book and whilst quite true to real life, so in that respect very well drawn and defined, are really quite annoying, so I can quite see how they might distract with all their little angsty moments.

      It wouldn’t do for us all to enjoy the same books, now would it? Then we would have nothing to discuss or chat about. I really do value you stopping by though, if only to be typically British and complain about the weather 🙂

      It is a little cooler today, but being in the south of the country, we have just been slammed by the storm they forecast last night, so wet and windy kind of sums it up here. The family are on holiday in Cornwall and I think they really had a night of it down there!

      I hope that apart from lack of sleep, about which I can quite sympathise, all is well with you and that you have a good weekend 🙂

Written by Yvonne

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