The Boy That Never Was by Karen Perry

The Boy that Never wasI received this book from the publisher, Penguin SA, in exchange for an honest review.

Please note: There might be spoilers in this review

Harry and Robin lived in Tangier with their three year old son, Dillon, until Harry made the careless mistake of leaving Dillon alone in the apartment while he snuck out quickly. As fate would have it, there was a devastating earthquake that claimed the lives of many, including Dillon, who is believed dead since no body was found. This happened five years ago. After what happened, Harry and Robin moved back to Dublin to rebuild their lives.

The story is told from both their perspectives. Harry, who is struggling to deal with the guilt and the loss of their son, believes that Robin blames him for what happened to Dillon. Reading both their perspectives it felt to me that Harry grieved for their son a lot more than what Robin did. Was it his guilt? But Robin had her own guilt, maybe she believed that Dillon’s fate was her punishment?

One day Harry sees a 8 year old boy that reminds him of Dillon and this sends him into a downwards spiral of obsession. Trying to find Dillon, trying to persuade his friend Spencer to help him find the boy, while hiding this from Robin. When he eventually tells her that he thinks he found Dillon, she doesn’t believe him and think him crazy. I did find her reluctance to listen to his reasons a bit perplexing as I would have thought she might want to have that hope, especially since his body was never found. On the other hand, I can also understand why she doesn’t want to have that hope, because if it’s not Dillon, it would mean heartbreak for her all over again.

There are some dynamics in their relationship too. Harry was unfaithful and although she knows it, she casted a blind eye. Why is she blind to his mistakes? If it was me, I would have left him, but you know what… we will find that reason out soon enough. During Harry’s quest to find Dillon a lot of other secrets and betrayals are revealed. Will they survive it?

The story is slow moving in the beginning, but it picks up from the middle towards the end, because as a reader, I wanted to know is it really Dillon that he saw or is he psychologically disturbed? Harry was my favourite character as I felt he opened up a lot more. This novel is part thriller and part psychological, although the latter in small doses. It is a novel filled with mystery, secrets and betrayal, but also of loss – and how it can shatter your life. I think that if you enjoy mysteries, you will like reading this one.

Image source

  • The slow beginning might get me but always good to know if its going to pick up

    • It does and it just gets better, so don’t worry.

  • Oh interesting. I think I’d keep reading just to know if he really found him or of he’s crazy.

    • That’s what I did too and you’ll be surprised by the ending.. or not so much 🙂

  • It sounds so sad :/

  • This reminds me of Elliot Pearlman’s book Seven Types of Ambiguity, whereas the first short story in Granta’s Shrinks themed issue, there is a little boy and a psychologist, who cares for the divorced parents of the child. Each parent is interviewed by the psychologist, who acts like an omnipresent narrator. It is a foreboding circumstance, where it seems like the ex-husband pines for his ex-wife, who is now with another man and the child falls victim. I believe he drowns in a pool.

    • The child drowned? Thanks for the recommendation, I will look up Seven Types of Ambiguity

      • I think the child drowns and the father is talking about it and his ex-wife. What fascinated me was the use of a psychologist as the one with access, the story-teller, which creates depth.

        I don’t know if that interests you, but I am always interested in the depth of words and the depth of implications, metaphors, relations to other things, and the title alone is interesting, where ambiguity leaves things open, there’s a lack of clarity.

        I felt like we got to see the story through everyone’s eyes and how they affected each other. The psychologist as God came to me.

        If you want you can find the Shrinks edition of the magazine Granta and read the first chapter. I found the entire book – Seven Types of Ambiguity – on line used. I don’t think they printed a lot of copies. It is a very special book, although I may not have said, I’ve only read the first chapter. I am hoping the rest of the book is as amazing.

        His writing style too, the spareness, the clarity of thought, that one chapter, as a short story has remained with me as perhaps the greatest short story I have ever read. I have a feeling however by his picture that he is like a frat boy, handsome and cool, and that pisses me off. I want a genius to be humble. And I think he probably just contrived it, having that capacity to stand over it, like eggs in a pan and just fry them up and eat them.

        • Thank you. I will try and find out more information about Seven Types of Ambiguity. You make it sound so interesting and like a really intriguing read.

          Yes, I do sometimes revel in the written words – the depth of it. The metaphor type of writing is very apparent in classics, which is why I find when reading classics, you really have to savour the words and don’t try to read it too quickly.

          • tomthumb3

            I ended up getting and reading Seven Types of Ambiguity. It is a winner. He is clearly a masterful writer.

  • I’m not huge on mysteries, but this one sounds interesting. The whole idea of it really being the kid or it just being psychosis appeals to me.

    • Part mystery, part thriller, it’s not too much of either.

  • You’ve made the book sound very appealing to me! 🙂

  • Oooooh you had me at psychologically disturbed! 😀

    • Yes, but only a little bit. If you want psychologically disturbed, you should try Therapy

  • Thanks for this explanation of the book. It sounded interesting so I bought it and am now half way through. You can tell I’m really enjoying a book when I can;t even get through breakfast without reading a bit more of it. The characters are quite real and I am fully immersed in their problems, empathizing first with one then with the other.

    • I’m happy that you’re enjoying the story so far! I’ll look out for your review of the book.

  • Sounds intriguing and sad. Issues of betrayal in marriage interest me a lot since we Africans deal with it differently from the Westerners.

    A fine review, Melinda.

    • Thank you. I think what you mentioned is an interesting topic – dealing with betrayal. I wonder if you would mind me asking how?

  • I have a copy of this book and now I’ve read your review I’m really keen to get on and read it…

  • What a great title. I like books that have dual-linear narratives. Well reviewed 🙂