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Jodi Picoult certainly writes a compelling book – readers all over the world can’t put her books down and when they finally do, they are often left sobbing. This is an emotional book, but not as devastatingly so as some of her others.
Picoult’s meticulous research really comes to the fore in Leaving Time. The central character, Alice Metcalf, is an elephant researcher who becomes obsessed with the apparently emotionally driven activities of elephants. Against her science training, and her colleagues’ recommendation, she begins to appropriate human traits upon the elephants. She documents the relationships between elephant mothers and children; and she starts to believe that elephants grieve. She sees and documents evidence of it.
Ultimately Alice’s experiences lead her to follow her other love, Thomas, who owns an elephant sanctuary, to the USA. The sad stories of these elephants – largely unwanted and traumatised circus animals – is thought-provoking. By the time we enter this world, Thomas is locked away in a mental institution, Alice is missing and presumed dead, and their teenage daughter Jenna is determined to find out what happened to her mother. She enlists the support of a disgraced TV psychic and the original police investigator of the crime.
The parallels between elephant maternal instinct and grief and the human experiences are intentional, but not forced. The mystery that envelopes the story is finally resolved in a suprising, clever way.
I enjoyed this story and wasn’t left as emotionally wrought as previously with Picoult’s books. And that is a good thing.
Reviewed by Gillian Torckler
by Jodi Picoult
Published by Allen & Unwin