Blurb from Goodreads
In this masterful, enthralling debut novel about fate and family history, a young woman sees the truth about people written on their skin.
Magdalena has an unsettling gift. She sees writing on the bodies of everyone she meets—names, dates, details both banal and profound—and her only relief from the onslaught of information is to take off her glasses and let the world recede. Mercifully, her own skin is blank.
When she meets Neil, she is intrigued to see her name on his cheek. He’s in Paris for the summer, studying a medieval pilgrimage to the rocky coast of Spain, where the body of Saint Jacques was said to have washed ashore, covered in scallop shells. Desperate to make things right after her best friend dies—a loss she might have prevented—Magdalena embarks on her own pilgrimage, but not before Neil falls for her, captivated by her pale eyes, charming Eastern European accent, and aura of heartbreak.
Neil’s father, Richard, is also in Paris, searching for the truth about his late mother, a famous expatriate American novelist who abandoned him at birth. All his life Richard has clung to a single striking memory—his mother’s red shoes, which her biographers agree he never could have seen.
Despite misunderstandings and miscommunications, these unforgettable characters converge, by chance or perhaps by fate, and Magdalena’s uncanny ability may prove to be the key to their happiness. Indelible pulses with humanity and breathes life into unexpected fragments of history, illustrating our urgent need to connect with others, and the past.
When I first came across this book two things really struck me: the cover showing the woman whose face and eyes we can’t see, and the blurb; the story of a girl who reads the invisible words of people’s lives on their skins. Imagine that. If you could see someone’s life story etched onto their skin? How would you cope? You would see their hopes, their dreams, their pains, their sufferings and so much more!
So I was surprised when I started reading to find that the book didn’t just follow this girl’s story. It followed the lives of three people: of Richard whose chapters are written in the first person perspective, and then in the third person perspective are chapters following his son Neil and Magdalena who is the girl who can read our skin.
I think this initially threw me for a loop and is probably the primary reason for not loving this book as much as I thought I would. I just wanted to know more about the words on people’s skin. I was expecting Magdalena to be the primary focus but this really was Richard’s story. However, once I got used to the layout I became fascinated by the story and I wondered how they would interlink.
What followed were incredibly poignant stories, especially for Richard and Magdalena. We learn of their pasts and of their presents. The book felt very much like a catharsis for each character. A process of discovery and acceptance mixed with truth and myth. And it was interspersed with moments of such beautiful poignancy. However, at times I found some of the events quite tangential to the main story lines and that detracted a little from the overall beauty. I found this to be quite a slow burning reading experience even though it is already quite a short book in my opinion. And for some reason I could never accept that most of this book was set in 2008. I don’t know… It just seemed too other worldly for that and the modern setting somewhat jarred with me.
This book just was a little bit frustrating. Because it’s all there. Everything I want in a book is all there but it just needed…. More!!!!! I can’t quite explain what was missing for me. I found it too easy to put this book down at times but every time I picked it back up I was immediately lost in the words. It had this sort of quiet magic, an understated charm. The writing was simply beautiful. The plot; gloriously meandering, and the three stories of the main characters were so delicately and carefully interwoven that I could only compare them to the beauty of a fragile piece of stained glass that just reveals its true beauty to the world when the sun shines through at a certain angle. I wanted to love this book. Well I actually kinda did… Because when I reached the last page, the tears were glistening in my eyes. The emotion was there, the connection to the characters was there… but that extra something special was missing.
This is a debut novel so I think that probably explains the ‘missing something’. I will definitely read more by this author in future because if this book is anything to go by her future is very bright.
A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Published January 2017