Right from the beginning, I completely fell in love with the characters Maggie and Sam and the depiction of their long marriage together in You Don’t Know What I Have Done. McNaughton did a fantastic job detailing the intricacies of a big family held together by a loving, devoted couple, and the fallout involved when one of them passes away. From the first chapter, I envisioned my great-grandparents and the wonderful memories they created for their large extended family.
As the novel continues, I felt weight of the family’s grief, not just for the passing of the family patriarch, but also for their matriarch’s mental disintegration as she falls deeper into Alzheimer’s.
Parents aging and becoming more infirm is a tough thing for any child to witness. When one or more parent is also struggling with Alzheimer’s or dementia, it’s infinitely more difficult to try and care for them. It’s draining to constantly correct their thoughts and redirect them to their current surroundings and place in time, especially if they’re seemingly fixated on reliving a particular time in their life.
In You Don’t Know What I Have Done, Maggie and Sam’s children, Ian, Lizzie, and Kevin, are mere weeks into grieving the passing of their father when they discover their mother has been coping with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis for quite some time, and had chosen to keep the diagnosis a secret from everyone except her husband.
As Lizzie, her brothers, and their spouses pull together to make sure Maggie is looked after, they begin hearing their mother relay stories about her childhood in Ireland and young adulthood in London that don’t quite add up. A sister they’ve never heard about, a new version of the story of how Maggie and Sam first met—and a possible murder? Is it the Alzheimer’s talking, some distorted mixture of her memories and maybe a movie she’d seen or a book she’d read? Or has the Alzheimer’s effectively torn down Maggie’s walls and left the truth exposed, accessible to anyone willing to listen?
The larger questions posed: Is it a betrayal to learn, right before their passing, just how little you really knew about your parents’ lives? Or is it almost a blessing that their illness is at least exposing family secrets you otherwise never would’ve learned?
It’s a beautifully tragic story to read.
Therefore, I am disappointed to have to take points away from this novel’s rating because of its poor editing. The quality of the story and the characters are a stark contrast to its deficient presentation. The multitude of grammatical, punctuation, and structural errors took me out of the story continuously. Sentences are unfinished, there are missing pronouns, articles, and verbs throughout, punctuation is incorrect or absent, and more. Although I read an advance copy, these are supposed to be polished. Had the novel been properly edited before going to print, I would’ve happily given You Don’t Know What I Have Done five stars. It’s a lovely, heartrending story I highly recommend if you can overlook the editorial mistakes (or they are corrected).