I may have had tears in my eyes as I read the last page of The Truth About Her. Not just for the hopeful note it ends on – the promise of positive change to come – but because I truly felt sad to be leaving these characters behind. I’d been so caught up in the story, I felt I’d lived through that eventful, sultry Sydney summer with them.
The Truth About Her is the debut novel from the award-winning journalist Jacqueline Maley. It tells the story of Suzy Hamilton, also a journalist, who writes an expose on a wellness blogger/cancer fraudster (a story surely inspired by real Australian events about five years ago). The denounced con subsequently commits suicide, and not long afterwards Suzy’s long-running affair with her married boss becomes public knowledge. Cue a complex unravelling for our protagonist.
Suzy is soon approached by Jan, the grieving mother of the deceased blogger. When Jan commissions Suzy to write the ‘real’ story of her daughter, Suzy finds herself questioning the very nature of truth and of the stories we tell ourselves and each other. As Maley told Books & Publishing, “Does someone’s true essence exist, or is it constructed through the process of describing it?”
For me, the strength of this novel lies in the reflections of the fully fleshed-out characters, particularly the sharply observed Suzy. She’s a single mother on the brink of 40, navigating motherhood and romantic relationships, who suddenly finds herself starting again. I found her to be hugely relatable; flawed, raw and honest.
The writing itself is smart, funny, layered and rich; every sentence carefully crafted, thoughtful and shot through with brilliant humour. It deals with questions of guilt, shame, anger and self-worth, and how we navigate these as individuals.
But the central theme is the love between mothers and daughters. This is explored not in an overly sentimental way, but by acknowledging that although it can be complicated and messy, it is ultimately a driving force without limits.
Maley is an exceptional storyteller. Rumour has it she is working on a second book and I know I’ll definitely be reading it.
The Truth About Her is available now.