Mahsuda Snaith’s mesmerising first novel The Things We Thought We Knew is a story full of twists and turns that blurs the lines between reality, memory and imagination.
Eighteen year-old Ravine Roy has been bed-bound due to chronic pain syndrome for the last eleven years. From her bed, Ravine describes the Leicester council estate where she lives with her mother Rekha – a sari and trainer wearing Bangladeshi woman who feeds leftover chapatti to the ducks at the local park and is determined to help Ravine get out of bed.
Snaith’s captivating writing style creates characters almost real enough to step out of the pages. We meet Ravine’s best friend Marianne Dickerson and her brother Jonathan through a series of flashbacks that are interwoven into the narrative. Although the action is centred around Ravine and her friends, it was the mother-daughter relationship between Rekha and Ravine that really stood out for me – I loved the dynamic between them and the way that Ravine often chastised her mother for being embarrassing although you got the feeling that Ravine wouldn’t change her mother for the world.
Snaith’s portrayal of family life on a council estate is honest and refreshing. When Mrs Dickerson abandons her children to go ‘on a holiday’, the mysterious Uncle Walter steps in. The larger-than-life army veteran teaches the children Italian and how to survive bear attacks and unwittingly becomes a father figure who offers a taste of a world outside of the council estate for the children.
The Things We Thought We Knew offers a unique take on the bildungsroman form. Even though the novel isn’t the kind of book I would usually read, Snaith’s writing style makes it easy to become completely absorbed in Ravine’s world. The novel has hints of magical realism throughout which adds an element of intrigue. The suspense built up throughout the narrative definitely makes it a page-turner – I couldn’t put it down!
Maisie Bamford is currently studying for an MA in Modern Literature at the University of Leicester. She had her first poem published in the Leicester Writes anthology Welcome to Leicester in 2016 and is currently working on a collection of short stories.