Alex is the grieving narrator of Elanor Dymott’s debut novel, Every Contact Leaves a Trace. He begins by saying that his wife Rachel has been murdered, and he admits he didn’t know her very well. He goes on to recount their first meeting, the meeting that lead to their marrying some ten years later, and a great deal in between.
Most of the action took place at Oxford University, where Alex and Rachel were students, Alex studying law, Rachel, literature. Alex was always smitten with Rachel, but the reverse was not true. Rachel had two close friends also studying literature, Anthony and Cissy. Their first two years at school, the three were inseparable and wild (parties at Rachel’s godmother’s house were particularly infamous).
Told as I imagine a lawyer might (author Dymott studied literature at Oxford but then became a lawyer), the story is laid out slowly and painstakingly, which great attention to detail, too much for my taste. Alex and his Oxford teacher Harry come off a bombastic, and the story moves ahead at a tortuously slow pace. The “people and circumstances are not always what they seem” theme feels beaten to smithereens. I wanted to yell, “I get it already!” I also expected more from the characters. While I applaud the philosophical stance Dymott takes—in the end, we still don’t know what really happened, nor will we ever really know—it all feels very labored.
The book received positive reviews in the UK, so my take on it might well reflect my nationality. Judge for yourself: