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Review: These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf

these things hidden gudenkauf Review: These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf

(Please note that this book contains a number of twists that Ill be discussing in the review below. If spoilers bother you, you may wish to stop reading)


Vivacious, intelligent, driven, and high-achieving, Allison Glenn was not the sort of teenage girl youd expect to see sent to prison. Five years on, Allison is being released, but its into a world of fearful unknowns. Estranged from her family and ostracised by the residents of the small town in which she grew up, Allison is painfully alone. Even the residents of the halfway house into which she moves, although broken and damaged themselves, cant accept her. But Allisons luck turns when she is offered a job at a local bookshop, and she leaps upon the opportunity, hoping that she will be able at long last to pull her life back on track. But arriving at work, Allison comes face to face with a sight entirely unexpected: a little boy who is the very image of herself. A little boy who is the twin of the baby girl for whose murder she was convicted.

My thoughts

These Things Hidden is Heather Gudenkaufs sophomore effort, following from the highly successful The Weight of Silence. Its a beautifully written novel, and one that demands quite a lot of the reader, revealing its secrets slowly and with substantial gravity. The four point of view characters are exclusively female, and Gudenkauf does a remarkable job of differentiating them beautifully around a particular key attribute (which Ill discuss in depth below). Their voices are superbly rendered, and theres scarcely a false note in the novel when it comes to narrative voice. The plot necessarily makes a few leaps of coincidence in order to bring together these four characters in the way required to bring about the chilling denouement, and while theyre not entirely unbelievable, they did mar this book just a touch for me. I think part of this is to do with the size of the town in which the characters live: were first led to believe that its a vanishingly small town in which everyone knows everyone elses business, but the towns size and closeness seem to change depending on the immediate demands of the plot. Still, Gudenkaufs suggestion of predestination and synchronicity (which is what seems to be suggested by the plot) is interesting, and the idea that certain fates are intertwined until particular courses of action have played out is fascinating.

In my mind,'These Things Hidden is perhaps most profoundly'a book about motherhood, and the different ways in which motherhood can be constructed by different actors. Its with exquisite care and sensitivity that the novel braids together four separate points of view, using each one to explicate the complexity and variability of the mother-child relationship. Inevitably, its Allison we come to know best, as its because of her actions that the other characters come to be in their own respective situations. Allisons mother-daughter relationships are myriad, and rarely traditional. We watch as she becomes slowly crippled under the pressure she places upon herself in trying to win the love of her brutally cold mother, and how the mothering role she plays towards her younger sister Brynn slowly transforms into something equally as distant. Theres the disconnect she feels upon giving birth to her children, whose presence she has tried to ignore throughout her pregnancy, in a sense mirroring again her own tenuous relationship with her mother. Finally, theres the comfort she gives to Claire, her boss at the bookshop, and the way in which she steps into the life of Joshua, Claires adopted son, despite the years that have been elided from their relationship. Allison that becomes the focal point through which we can examine the mothering tendencies of the other women. Theres Claire, who is unable to have children, and who has placed herself firmly and wholly into the role of Joshuas mother. Claires fear of losing Joshua is palpable, and the ease with which this could happen is highlighted throughout the book: we flash back to her first would-be adopted child being returned to its mother, then witness a robbery in which both Joshua and Claire are threatened. Claire is also positioned as a way to muse on the value of motherhood and the child-parent relationship: her desperate struggle to have children is contrasted with Allisons detachment, and theres certainly a value judgement here being explored.

Charm, the sister of Allisons erstwhile lover, and a regular patron of Claires bookshop, is positioned somewhere between Allison and Claire on the motherhood scale. Initially given the task of raising Joshua, Charm found the task to be too challenging, particularly given that she has long been playing the role of carer (and/or mother) to her terminally ill step-father. The issue of the role of determination and desire is raised here, as is that of the limitations of gregariousness and selflessness: can Charm stretch her empathy to care not only for her stepfather, but for a baby, too? The notion of finite empathy is one that is often raised in situations relating to charity or sympathy, and is interestingly dealt with throughout the book. Charms role is not limited to this, however: her challenging relationship with her mother also features strongly, and the selfish and self-interested role occupied by her frivolous mother is an interesting comparison point with Allison, with whom she inevitably comes face to face, resulting in a necessary confrontation/comparison. This juxtaposition is quite fascinating, given that both women are attempting to mitigate the errors of their pasts, yet are haunted by the legacies theyve created. Finally, theres Brynn, Allisons younger sister a girl who has lost her mother twice: first her maternal mother, whom she perceives has always rejected her in favour of Allison, and then Allison herself, who gradually grows away from Brynn as she enters adolescence. Brynns desire to be loved and accepted seems from an early age to be unhealthy, but its only as the book progresses that we find out the extraordinary degree to which this is true. Brynn herself is given some few opportunities to play the role of the mother: first, during Allisons labour, during which she tends to her sister and is told to care for the newborns. Her actions in this scenario result in her failure as a mother, and trigger the resulting situation. Later, Brynn becomes seen as broken: she begins to care for animals instead, and then only the imperfect and unwanted ones. Brynns sense of self has been crippled, and this notion presents itself dramatically during her tragic and chilling reunion with Allison.

In addition to addressing motherhood in great depth, the book also examines the consequences of actions both good and bad, and the interconnectedness of things (as noted above in my opening paragraph). It highlights the consequences of acting rashly or without deep thought, and without taking the time to consider how deeply and to what degree ones actions will affect not only oneself, but those with whom one directly or indirectly interacts. Allisons actions to only to protect herself in light of her pregnancy, but also to protect her sister Brynn, have a compounding effect that continues to manifest, and the same is true of the other characters within the book. At the same time, action in the form of inaction, in this case in the form of silence is also a key element, and the various characters failure to speak out or tell the whole truth continues to frustrate their efforts, resulting in a festering, simmering situation not easily resolved without precipitative action.


With nods to authors such as Maggie OFarrell and Alice Sebold, These Things Hidden is a quiet exploration of the lives of several women whose seemingly normal desires (ie, those related to the maternal instinct) result in their being in an entirely extraordinary situation that gains a startling and supremely challenging depth and complexity. Its a novel about identity, relationships, honesty, and agency, and its a truly fascinating one. While the ending is telegraphed fairly early on, and theres a certain inevitability to the plot, Gudenkauf writes with such integrity that its difficult not to become caught up in the lives of her characters. Id highly recommend this as a book club pick.

Rating: star Review: These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkaufstar Review: These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkaufstar Review: These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkaufstar Review: These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkaufblankstar Review: These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf (excellent)

With thanks to Meryl L. Moss Media Relations, Inc. for the review copy

Purchase These Things Hidden from Amazon | Book Depository UK | Book Depository USA

Also by Heather Gudenkauf:

the weight of silence Review: These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf

pixel Review: These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf


  1. I loved this book as well! I havent read Heathers first novel, but I most definitely will!
    Samantha recently posted..Ashlee Simpson-Wentz Files for Divorce

  2. Stephanie /

    Thanks for the visit, Samantha. Im definitely going to pick up The Weight of Silence. Id love to discuss These Things Hidden as part of a book clubtheres so much to talk about, and I think different readers would bring some really interesting perspectives to the table.

  3. This sound slike a book Id enjoy, Ive added it to my TBR list :) Thanks for the review!

    Shelleyrae @ Bookd Out
    shelleyrae @ Bookd Out recently posted..Review- Green Eyed Demon by Jaye Wells

  4. Stephanie /

    Thanks for visiting, Shelley Rae. I think youd really enjoy this oneits very good. :) Quite sad and confronting at times, though.

  5. I didnt want to read your review before I wrote mine, so I only just read it. That is a very thorough, in-depth review (as always)! I felt the same way about all the points youve explored, especially the observations about motherhood.

    I liked her writing so much that I now want to read The Weight of Silence.
    Stargazerpuj recently posted..Book Review- These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf

    • Stephanie /

      Thanks for the comment, lovely. :) Its a fascinating read, and Im definitely going to be on the lookout for The Weight of Silence!


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