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Half The World Away by Cath Staincliffe

June 8, 2015

I’m happy to be participating in the blog tour for Cath Staincliffe’s new novel. My review is below.

Newly graduated photography student Lori Maddox spends the year after university travelling and visits China where she finds work as a private English tutor. Back in Manchester, her parents Jo and Tom, who separated when Lori was a toddler, follow her adventures on her blog, ‘Lori In The Orient’.

Suddenly communication stops and when the silence persists a frantic Jo and Tom report her missing. It is impossible to find out anything from 5,000 miles away so they travel out to Chengdu, a city in the south-western province of Sichuan, to search for their daughter.

Landing in a totally unfamiliar country, with no knowledge of the customs or language, and receiving scant help from the local authorities, Jo and Tom are forced to turn detective, following in their daughter’s footsteps, tracing the people she mentioned in her posts, interviewing her friends, colleagues and students. It’s an unbearably difficult challenge and, as the days pass, the fear that Lori is lost for good grows ever larger.

half the world away

Lori Maddox has just graduated in photography and wants to spend her new-found freedom travelling and seeing a bit of the world. She keeps her family and friends across her adventures through her blog, ‘Lori in The Orient’.

Her mother, Jo, was divorced from her father Tom some years ago and Jo is now married to Nick.Jo and Nick have two young sons. There is some tension in their marriage and Jo has to work hard to keep all her family happy.

The whole family enjoys Lori’s blog and they catch up with her exploits through e-mails and on Skype. Lori travels to Chengdu province in Sichuan, China where she quickly picks up some teaching work and is clearly loving her time there.

And then suddenly, it all stops. No more blog, no e-mails, no contact at all. And Jo and Tom are literally half the world away and growing increasingly worried about what can have happened to Lori. They report her missing, but cannot sit at home doing nothing while their daughter remains out of contact. So they set out for China to see if they can urge on the authorities and start to re-trace what they know of Lori’s movements.

But China is not a country which readily accepts foreigners and their bureaucracy is very different from that of a British police force. Jo and Tom do have the help of a British attaché to China, but despite this, the ways of working of the Chinese remain impenetrable to them.

So without much help, they set about the painful process of trying to find Lori by contacting the friends she has made and talked about in her blog and by retracing her movements. It is a nightmare scenario – in an unfamiliar country where the language and customs are very different to their own, Jo and Tom re-connect through their grief and anguish, fearing that Lori has vanished for ever.

The tension is heightened by Jo’s domestic circumstances and by the fact that every time they try to do something to help find Lori, they are warned not to interfere in the investigation by the Chinese. In the stifling heat, amongst the vivid smells and colours of an unfamiliar world they desperately stumble along trying everything they can to find Lori.

Half The World Away is a great read, and a scenario that is so easy to believe. The writing conveys extremely well the difficult emotions felt by Jo, Nick and Tom and the conflicts that arise from Jo and Tom’s decision to go and look for their daughter. This is not a ‘who-dunnit’ in the sense that the reader isn’t laid a breadcrumb trail to find the perpetrator of Lori’s disappearance. But it is an emotionally vivid piece of writing and one which, in the most subtle of ways, conveys that the title has more resonance than just geographical miles. Emotional distance is the theme underpinning the plot and this comes through in the fine writing.

I won’t offer spoilers, so can’t say more about the ending, except to offer the view that it isn’t really quite the end; there is more to understand and explore in this conclusion. An enjoyable and emotional read.

Half The World Away is published by Constable

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