21/07/2015

Plain Truth (by Jodi Picoult)


I’ve only read a few of Jodi Picoult’s novels. Each one has been very well-written, with a powerful plot, difficult to put down… and quite emotionally draining. I have enjoyed most of them, and added a few more to my wishlist a few years ago. But it’s taking me a while to get around to reading them, perhaps because I’ve been concentrating on more lightweight novels.

It was quite a surprise, however, to realise that I’ve had ‘Plain Truth’ sitting on my to-be-read shelf for over three years now. I picked it up about three days ago… and although it’s not a short book, I finished it today. As with Picoult’s other novels, it became more and more difficult to put down, the further I read.

It starts with a brief, tragic and slightly confusing scene when a baby is born, and then vanishes. It’s clear, very quickly, that the mother is a young Amish woman called Katie, and that the baby has died. However, Katie denies having had a baby despite medical evidence that she has. And then the police get involved, and Katie is accused of murder.

Ellie, meanwhile, is a lawyer who is taking a break with an aunt nearby after a stressful case which she won by convincing the jury that a guilty man was innocent. She justifies it to herself but feels bad for his victims. She doesn’t want to take on another case, but finds herself not just defending Katie, but offering to be her ‘keeper - to watch her, and ensure that she stays with her until the trial begins, so that Katie does not have to go to jail.

The bulk of the book is about Ellie and Katie as they get to know each other. Katie appears to have some form of amnesia, although as the book develops, and she ‘remembers’ more, it’s hard to know what’s going on. Is she telling deliberate lies? Is she schizophrenic? Is she a cold-blooded killer and also an actress? Why can’t she remember giving birth - or, apparently, conceiving the baby in the first place…?

Ellie, meanwhile, has to adapt to Amish culture which includes learning to milk cows, helping with chores in the kitchen, being taught to sew… and living without electricity. Which proves difficult when she needs to recharge her laptop in order to produce the necessary paperwork for her case.

The last third of the book deals with the court case itself, with the various witnesses (introduced earlier) being interviewed by both prosecution and defence. Although nothing new transpires, it makes fascinating reading, giving insights into the whole legal process.

I find it rather concerning that Ellie keeps insisting that truth, as such, isn’t relevant: what matters is to tell the most convincing story. Although Katie challenges this - as an Amish girl she is committed to truth - it appears that the entire justice system is far from just, if the most important thing is to have a convincing lawyer.

There are many twists and turns to the storyline as Katie gradually reveals more, and as Ellie begins to see at a deeper level just how the Amish community functions. There’s a positive and - I thought - balanced view of these people, as ordinary folk who simply want to get on with their lives without compromising their principles. While I would hate to do without electricity and modern transport, their non-violent forgiving ethos is very appealing.

While I had guessed some of what was to come, including what’s revealed in a kind of epilogue, I certainly hadn’t expected all that transpired. The plotting is meticulous, the people believable, and despite not much happening in terms of action, I was hooked by the time I was about a third of the way through.

The ending is perhaps rather abrupt, but overall I liked this book very much.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's Book Reviews

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