The Truth about Melody Browne Lisa Jewell (Century) By Yasmin Selena Butt Lisa Jewell arrived on the contemporary fiction scene seven novels ago with her engaging award-winning debut Ralph’s Party. Her new book The Truth about Melody Browne is her first novel with publishers Century and marks a departure from her previous best-selling offerings under Penguin, in so far as it’s a braver tale because it’s a singularly subdued one. Much of it is witnessed in flashbacks through the eyes of a faultless child who things just happen to, but like a cloud with the brightest silver lining, the payoff is sweetly, gently stunning. The tale centres on Melody Browne - a thirty-something single mum working as a dinner lady, reasonably happy and living quietly in a council estate. She has good friends and a son she loves, but hasn’t seen her parents in years and doesn’t get out much. One thing sets her apart. Melody Browne has no memory of life before the age of nine when the trauma of a house fire wiped her memory clean. One day she meets a nice man called Ben who asks her out on a date. She’s not been on one in years, but she tentatively decides to go, only to get knocked for six when a stage show hypnotist whose audience they’re in taps into her mind causing her to faint. Browne wakes up feeling off kilter, stops smoking and encounters triggers to flashbacks of faces and places that mean nothing to her. Intrigued, she embarks on a cautious journey to connect the clues to fill in the gaps of those lost years, resulting in her life veering from unremarkable to remarkable. In many ways this is a tale of our times, single mothers do live in council estates, teens do have sophisticated tastes, tragedies do strike, plus there were an awful lot of hippies in the 1970s - and life - despite the good and bad that happens, does go on. The beauty of Jewell’s work is that the plots are never formulaic and her tales never fail to engage you emotionally. You are moved when the toddler Browne tells her mentally absent mum she feels cold in the hope she’ll think to hold her, cheered by her little victories, and intensely warmed by the reminder that out there even if we don’t know it we are figuratively someone’s baby. Scenes are vividly realised with loving attention to detail, that create empathy and place you in the thick of it. If Melody Browne’s tale made it to the silver screen there wouldn’t be a dry eye in the house, and the only predictable thing about Jewell is that she leaves you with a smile on your face, so thankfully this isn’t a Lars von Trier movie. Historically, Jewell’s stories are unusual in that they can equally engage the psyche of both sexes, especially her novels A Friend of The Family and Thirtynothing, which depict an array of emotionally intelligent male and female characters. Jewells’ tales are told with earthiness, energetic colourful insight, humour plus a willingness to delve into the uncomfortable places that go hand in hand with being human. This novel is a genuine departure from her previous work as much of it is expertly told from the eyes of a girl child, but writers should take risks and push our boundaries and subsequently their own. The Truth about Melody Browne isn’t afraid of its melancholy streak, but this is no kitchen sink drama, ultimately it’s a quiet celebration of how serendipity can change a life forever - and of how that woman you see everyday on the bus might actually be little bit special. The Truth about Melody Browne is published on 9th April 2009, at £11.99 www.lisa-jewell.co.uk