Everything You Do Is Wrong by Amanda Coe

Amanda Coe's What They Do In The Dark was one of the most memorable (albeit also one of the bleakest) books I've read in the past decade, so I was delighted to receive a review copy of her new book Everything You Do Is Wrong, due out in October this year.

Set on the Yorkshire coast, Everything You Do Is Wrong begins with the discovery of a naked, unconscious young woman by local dance teacher Mel. Named 'Storm' by the psychiatric hospital who cares for her, the young woman is apparently mute and seems to have no memory of who she is. Dan, a young police officer, is determined to find out who Storm might be, although his investigation is hindered by no obvious crime having been committed and the indifference of his colleagues. In the meantime Mel's awkward, unhappy teenage niece Harmony is struggling to come to terms with her mother's mental illness and her stepfather's ineptitude - homeschooled and bullied for most of her life, Harmony is also being tutored through GCSEs by Declan, on whom she has a severe crush. Mel feels responsible in some way for Harmony - Harmony's mother Aurora isn't just Mel's childhood best friend but also her brother Stu's stepdaughter - but then again, Mel feels responsible in some way for everyone around her, including, to a degree, the mysterious Storm.

Some of the reviews of this book on Goodreads judge it negatively as a mystery, but it would be wrong to consider this a crime or mystery novel at all. Storm's situation is really just a subplot to the low-key family drama that gradually unfolds; it might be the catalyst to the rest of the story but it isn't the novel's main focus and the resolution of this element of the story was, for me, weak and anticlimactic.

This is a character-driven novel that primarily looks at the secrets, mistakes and misunderstandings that have dogged the extended families of Mel and Harmony and the human weaknesses and flawed judgements which ultimately have a devastating ripple effect. Amanda Coe is almost eerily perceptive when it comes to creating realistic characters, particularly women, and there isn't one implausible action taken or sentence spoken here; every person in this book is infuriatingly fallible and when we sympathise with them we do so in spite of, rather than because of, the people they are. It's possible to feel deeply sorry for Harmony, for instance, while also fully understanding why people don't want to be friends with her; we can sympathise with Aurora's obvious mental difficulties while also wanting to curse her selfishness and her terrible inability to see the effects of her behaviour on her daughter.

While there are many perfectly observed details and descriptions in this book, some of which are even funny at times, it's fair to say that this book is absolutely not a barrel of laughs and I felt it had a strong sense of bleakness to it which I can't say I entirely enjoyed. Watching the characters making such mistakes and taking an ostrich-like approach to obvious problems is incredibly frustrating. Moreover, the ending for me felt rushed and rather misplaced, rather as if the author had run out ideas. Combined with the revelation of Storm's true identity, which I found frankly very dull as well as vanishingly unlikely, this makes for a read that didn't quite hit the spot for me.