“Some people used to believe that there was an elephant graveyard… [it] is a myth… My mother, Alice, would have said there’s a perfectly logical explanation for a mass burial site… Jenna, she would have told me, there’s an explanation for everything you see.”
– Jodi Picoult, Leaving Time
There is no denying that Jodi Picoult is a master storyteller. She has an impressive backlist of bestsellers such as The Pact, My Sister’s Keeper, Nineteen Minutes and The Storyteller. Her most recent novel Leaving Time is an interesting addition to that list.
In recent years, I have had a very tumultuous relationship with Ms Picoult. I own every one of her books and I absolutely love her older books however I have struggled with some of her more recent reads and this one was no different. There were parts I really loved and others not so much. I was left with the same feeling after Lone Wolf and I feel like the connection is the focus on animals. The story is based around the lives of elephants and the study conducted of them. Thirteen year-old Jenna is searching for her mother Alice who was an accomplished scientist who studied grief among elephants. Ten years earlier, Alice disappeared leaving behind a young Jenna, a husband and the animals she cared about so much. Jenna refuses to believe that her mother abandoned them all and so she enlists the help of two people she believes can help her – a disgraced psychic named Serenity Jones and Virgil Stanhope, a cynical detective who worked on the original case. Together, they embark on a journey to discover the truth of Alice’s disappearance and the link to the death of a co-worker at the elephant sanctuary where they lived and worked.
The book is based on the behaviour of elephants and the way they interact and grieve with a focus on mothers and their children. It was the part of the book I liked the least. There were times where it felt a little too dense with information and instead of feeling like a work of fiction it sometimes felt as though I was reading a textbook. I admire the depth of Picoult’s research and her passion shines through in her writing but at the same time, it was a little overwhelming. Picoult has taken a huge step in raising awareness of the behaviour and intelligence of elephants. For this, I applaud her!
As usual, my favourite part of the novel was the characters. Picoult’s power is in her ability to create vivid and intense characters that draw you in and capture your heart. They feel real and I find myself wholly invested in their lives. I felt their pain and hoped for their happiness. I love the circular nature of the story; while the present story is moving forward we learn of the history of where it all began. Alice is an interesting narrator – she is so consumed with the lives of the elephants that you wonder how reliable she is. Jenna is exactly the same; she is so intelligent and aware of what is going on but she is also blinded by her grief and her search for the truth.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It was not one of my favourites but it was still well done. I cannot imagine the amount of work that went into it, piecing all the research together in the way that she has. And the ending – I can usually pick where the story is heading but I completely missed the clues for this one!