Tell Me Where You Are is a deceptively simple story. Time and distance have papered over the surface of family life for the characters we meet but under the surface lies a fractured structure.
There are three sisters leading separate lives. Frances is divorced and lives in a rural cottage in Scotland with her two teenage sons, Andrew and Jack. Gillian is unmarried, just out of a long-term relationship, with a professional career in Edinburgh. And there is Susan, the favourite daughter of parents, Grace and Jim.
It is Christmas and the parents and Gillian have been invited to join Frances and her sons. And it is into this scene that the underlying past is suddenly brought to the surface. Frances’ ex-husband, Alec, now married to Susan, asks to visit bringing Kate, his 14-year-old stepdaughter with him. He wants Kate to stay with Frances for a while. Alec has a business and a life that needs sorting out. Not the least because his wife, Susan is missing, whereabouts unknown, fate unknown.
So, into the relative calm of a family gathering for Christmas – a popular time for crisis to emerge, drops a large stone. An expanding ripple develops, and it is from this outline that Moira Forsyth skilfully leads the reader into the complex world of family life.
It is simply written. But the cadences of everyday conversation are underlaid with a revealing subtext of thought. The discoveries that come about from all of the relationships use the missing Susan as a touchstone. The missing sister is not missing from the novel. She is a very significant factor in all of their lives. The tension caused by the unexplained absence of a family member adds an element of mystery to the number of possible explanations. Self-questioning, doubt, Forsyth’s characterisation, understanding and revelations all ring true. The shifts in the relationships among the characters feel very real and Forsyth’s empathy and insight into women’s lives is perceptive and palpable. The sure handed guidance around the interconnections of the inner world we all experience is a triumph in telling us ‘where we are’.