What would you do if your teenage sister just simply disappeared when you were a little girl. And then reappeared at about the same time as your mother's estate was to be distributed?
WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? by Wendy James explores what Susan and Ed Middleton do when Susan's long-lost sister Karen - now known as Carly - reappears in response to a lawyer's advertisement. Susan isn't sure she'll be able to identify her sister, and Carly is definitely not the same sort of woman as Susan - but there do seem to be some memories they share, some nicknames, or events that gel, and Susan is eventually eager to accept the return of her sister. She's more than willing to invite her into her home, more than willing to spend time with her, more than willing to share her inheritance with her. Less than willing to share her husband.
WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? is a psychological thriller, completely without a murder, the only death is Susan's mother and that was natural. The book works forwards from the time of Carly's return into Susan's life as well as backwards as Susan remembers life with her parents after her sister disappeared, as they separated and her mother became more and more odd and obsessed.
Carly's had a much tougher, more raw life than Susan and bits and pieces of who she has become are revealed as the book progresses, at the same time as the events that created the woman that is Susan are described. If these two women are sisters, it's really hard to imagine two more different woman - one hard-bitten, worldly, tough. The other sheltered, naive, sad. The fascinating thing about WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? is where does it go. The ending is going to intrigue or disappoint you, depending on whether you're a fan of ambiguity or not.
Wendy James really is one of those Australian authors who deserves a much wider audience. Let's hope the long-listing in the 2010 Ned Kelly Awards is the start of that.