Marianne Kavanagh’s absorbing third novel, Should You Ask Me, is a highly emotional mediation on memory, ageing, guilt, and regret.

Told in absorbing prose, the story begins in 1944 with the unearthing of two bodies on the Isle of Purbeck, Dorset. Mary Holmes, an elderly lady with a tale to tell, comes forward claiming to know their identities.

Mary tells her story to William – a young village constable still suffering from the injuries that saw him discharged from the army – who is forced to face traumatic memories and come to terms with his own guilt in the process of her interviews. The interaction between William and Mary is complex and the intricate dialogue that Kavanagh expertly weaves allows the narrative to shift between time periods effortlessly. Mary’s memories take the reader back to the nineteenth century, to a time where a young Mary struggled with friendship and love and was ultimately forced to make impossible decisions in the face of adversity. As Mary contemplates how the burden of guilt is not eased with time, instead becoming heavier as the years pass, William’s memories are ignited, and the reader is swept into wartime England and a Blitz ravaged London. William’s story is one of love and tragedy in a time of chaos and uncertainty, but the time he spends with Mary helps him to come to terms with the heart-breaking circumstances surrounding his physical and emotional pain.

Should You Ask Me is a tale of different generations bonding through their shared burden of loss and guilt. The two stories are vividly realised in an interweaving narrative that highlights the importance of place in history and in stories, as the inhabitants of the sweeping Dorset landscape are deeply connected to the land, their lives completely and inevitably intertwined with its history. In this captivating novel, the power of memory is deeply rooted in place, yet Kavanagh’s multi-layered narrative considers its reliability in a compelling reflection on time and perception, whilst immersing the reader in a rich historical landscape.

Should You Ask Me is out now, published by Hodder and Stoughton.

Reviewed by our administrator, Debby Brady.