The Last Thing She Told Me focuses on four generations of women from the same family and the secrets which have shaped their lives. The novel begins as Nicola visits her ailing grandmother Betty, who, moments before she dies, whispers that there are babies at the bottom of the garden.
Nicola’s mother dismisses it as nonsense, but when Nicola’s daughter finds a bone in Betty’s garden, Nicola realises something sinister has taken place and has to decide whether to go to the police in order to unearth the truth, even though she knows it may destroy her family. Nicola is driven by a desire to uncover the truth and believes secrets are best out in the open. But her mother Irene takes the view that long-buried secrets should remain there.
I was inspired to write the book following the death of my 92-year-old grandmother, who, just before she died, said something which suggested she had suffered a loss which we knew nothing about. It got me thinking about the women of her generation who took secrets to their grave.
It also made me think about the way society, the media and now social media, shame women for things that happen to them, even including being raped and sexually abused. I was very aware that although society may have moved on from the time when women were shamed for getting pregnant out of wedlock, young women today are still shamed for behaving in an ‘inappropriate’ way, and victim blaming is very much alive.
The novel is set in the Calder Valley in West Yorkshire. It’s a beautiful part of the world which I know well, having lived there for eleven years, and Pecket Well, a village set high up on the hills above Hebden Bridge, is the sort of place where I can imagine a secret could be kept for years.
Questions for Readers
How do the mother/daughter relationships between Irene and Nicola and Nicola and Ruby differ?
What purpose did William’s letters to Betty serve in the book?
What significance do the fairy statues have throughout the story?
Do you think Ruby and Maisie will grow up in a society which judges women in the same way as it judged their great-grandmother, grandmother and mother?
Asking For It by Louise O’Neill
Sister by Rosamund Lupton
Daughter by Jane Shemilt
We Know, You Know by Erin Kelly
Let Me Lie by Clare Mackintosh
The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty