Review: Dear Daughter by Elizabeth Little

The internet, social media and 24-hour news, all fascinating tools that mean we can access information pretty much instantly, and which also mean it’s impossible for people to hide.

Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton are just two IT girls whose nosediving careers have kept gossip magazines and Twitter occupied, and they were partly the inspiration behind Elizabeth Little’s fabulous novel Dear Daughter.

Ten years ago Janie Jenkins was convicted of murdering her mother, a socialite and philanthropist. Now aged 27 and released on a technicality, a disguised Janie heads to small town America to find out the truth about what happened on the night her mother was killed.

If you crossed Gossip Girl with Gone Girl, and added a twist of the National Enquirer and Perez Hilton, the love child they’d create would be Dear Daughter. Only Dear Daughter is better. This is a sharp, witty novel that examines our obsession with celebrity in what is just a plain good story.

Janie, who goes “undercover” as Rebecca after being released from prison, narrates the whole book with a voice that is bitchy and weary and shot through with a dark humour. Little has created a compelling narrator in Janie, one you feel sorry for and are awed by at the same time. Janie is, in essence, the kind of celebrity we just can’t help wanting to hear about and from, only with more depth, since we really get to know her.

Dear Daughter has plenty of secondary characters, and even a love interest (or two), but it really stands out because it’s a book about women – how women see each other, female friendship, mother-daughter relationships. It’s refreshing that Little decides to shove the romantic entanglements slightly onto the back burner; it keeps the book moving and interesting and means the central core of Janie trying to find out who killed her mother is never abandoned.

And then there’s the mystery of what happened to Janie’s mother. I have to applaud Little for the way that she kept me guessing. Not only were there various twists and turns that Janie came across that she told the reader about, I was also never 100 per cent sure of whether Janie had done it or not right until the big reveal. Little writes a modern twist on the scene where a detective gathers all the suspects into a room and tells them who dunnit, and it’s marvellous.

Dear Daughter is a novel of our time, particularly with the current fascination with the trial of Oscar Pistorius, but it’s also just a great read. This is an indulgent summer read that will leave you feeling you’ve spent your time well.

•Dear Daughter is released on August 14, 2014.

How I got this book: From the publisher, Harvill Secker. This did not affect my review.

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