One day, out of the blue, all the dead return to the living, as though they'd never left. For elderly couple Harold and Lucille, it means seeing their long-dead son again - or does it? Is it really their son? And does it matter? Such are the questions that create the central drama at the heart of The Returned. It's not so much about the dead coming back to life, as it is about the impact the event has on the people around them and society at large. It's about grief and hope and love and fear and horror and joy and death and life.
Going into this, I was expecting it to be creepy, and while there is an uneasy tension and building sense of horror that pervades the novel, as humans react as they always do - by locking away and even destroying what they fear - The Returned is, more than anything, a truly beautiful book.
The writing is lovely, but it's the characters that really get under your skin. I love, love, love the fact that the hero of this book is an old lady - an ordinary old lady, at that. Lucille is one of my favourite characters in a long time. I also appreciated the exploration of Harold's mixed emotions, and the intrinsic sense of good that ruled his behaviour no matter what. A lot of the secondary characters were great, too, and their varied reactions to the Returned felt incredibly realistic.
The setting of a small town in the US was really effective in creating a claustrophobic and increasingly oppressive atmosphere that conveyed the confusion and fear felt by everyone. I also enjoyed the interludes featuring the stories of the Returned around the world - some of them were truly gut-wrenching - but I have to say the subplot involving the Reverend kind of disappointed me. It was interesting at first but just fizzled out. The main story, on the other hand, started out slow but built to a fantastic and memorable climax.The bittersweet ending, and indeed the book as a whole, really makes you think a lot about what it means to be alive, and what it takes to let go of those we love. It's the kind of book that stays with you long after you've finished it.
Published: 2013, Harlequin MIRA
Get It: Book Depository
The Returned has been adapted into a TV series that is apparently coming out in March. It doesn't look anywhere near as good as the book, judging from the trailer, but it still looks worth a watch.