Review - Tattletale, Sarah J. Naughton

Review Written By
Karen Chisholm

If you happen to find yourself feeling slightly confused and muddled in the early chapters of TATTLETALE - hang in there. It takes a while for everyone and everything in this novel to fall into place, but once they do - hang on for the rest of the ride.

Using an unusual structure, and some really complicated character back-stories, TATTLETALE starts out with Mags receiving an unexpected phone call. Her estranged brother Abe is in hospital back in their native UK, and no-one seems to know what was behind his fall from the 4th floor of the converted church that he, Jody his fiancé and an array of neighbours all have flats within. 

Megs feels compelled to head back to the UK, after many years working as a lawyer in the US, for reasons which are complicated and very emotional. It's obvious right from the start that the story of Mags and Abe's childhood is going to be fraught, but it seems that everybody here has similar baggage that they are lumping around. The woman by Abe's bedside - his fiancé Jody has her own troubled past, and she and Mags not only have to find a way to come to terms with Abe's condition, but with each other. 

TATTLETALE has an intriguing plot, as Mags tries to find out more about the brother she hardly knows, and the truth behind the fall - was it suicide, an accident or an attempt on his life. All the while the crime may or may not be what happened to Abe. It could be part of the harrowing child sexual abuse and rape stories that are revealed as the narrative continues. It could really be a lot of other possibilities as things progress. One thing that TATTLETALE does particularly well is confuse and bewilder. An emotion the reader is quite free to assume that Mags is experiencing as well.

The character's portrayed are also complex and extremely believable. Mags is prickly, moody and wildly unpredictable at points. She's unsympathetic and yet she's there - at the side of a brother she's not seen for many years. There is much in her background that is revealed as the novel proceeds - and readers are left to decide if those revelations are enough to excuse the difficult persona. Jody is different, almost passive, and obviously profoundly troubled. Her concern and affection for Abe could be touching, or it could be uncomfortably cloying - it's left up to the reader to decide. Even the snippets of Abe's life, prior to the coma, are left open to reader interpretation. It seems he might possibly be hiding something - but whether or not you'll guess what that is before it's revealed is a combination of a keen eye for obscure details and a willingness to extrapolate.

In a novel that's likely to polarise opinions, there are a lot of twists and turns, and a lot of opportunities for the reader to like, dislike, feel sorry for and want to throttle so many of the characters that it becomes quite the roller-coaster ride. For this reader, nothing in TATTLETALE was quite what it seemed, nobody quite who they were supposed to be and everything just slightly worse than you could have hoped it would turn out to be. It was therefore, compelling and frequently discomforting reading.

Year of Publication

Mags had been estranged from her brother Abe at the time of his accident.  Their separation wasn’t due to having had a falling out; it was more that their lives had moved in very different directions. Confident Mags had followed her legal career to the U.S. and Abe, as Mags found out, had been content in his carer’s job and in creating a quieter life for himself that was far away from the memories of their horrific childhood.  Mags does not accept that Abe tried to commit suicide by pitching himself off the building’s stairs.  He had a fiancé, colleagues, and purpose.  Moving into the atmospheric church complex herself, Mags extends her stay and slowly begins to find out who her brother had really been.

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