Finding Jessica Lambert - Clare Ashton
Is Jessica Lambert a metaphor for all of us?
Clare Ashton creates proper characters. The real-life sort who are complex, complicated, thoughtful and three-dimensional. And in this novel, we meet the delightful Jess Lambert, and the enigmatic Anna Mayhew. Both women are wonderfully layered, and carry all sorts of baggage to unpack together, yet separately.
Like all Ashton novels, the story is so well-constructed and such a beautiful journey that I was bereft upon finishing it. But thank goodness for the decent length of her novels, because it means that we take those tentative, tingly steps towards the development of a relationship without illogically leaping ahead because a page count is knocking on the door. We fall in love with Jess and Anna. Both suffer from anxiety, but for entirely different reasons. Both hide behind a metaphorical mask; also for entirely different reasons. And both need to be found.
Finding something means we know it’s been lost. It also means we need to know what has been lost to find it. So in this story, before Jessica Lambert can be found, Anna and Jess have to answer the question; who am I?
Anna discovers Jess on the train, but she hasn’t found her yet, because to find Jess, Anna needs to find herself. Jess is lost within her famous celebrity persona and much of her anxiety stems from the realisation that she might not be able to remember who she is anymore.
You know how sometimes when you’re looking for something, you have to look in a place that’s not the place it should be?
Jess discovers in Anna a new place to settle her thoughts. Anna sees in Jess an opportunity to breathe.
Anna and Jess exist independently as strong women who are battling their own anxieties. They have strategies in place to cope. They have boundaries to keep them safe, even when external elements keep reaching in to draw them out.
This becomes evident when both characters recognise that they are a product of their families and those closest to them. Penny, Anna’s best friend, is an exceptional secondary character, and an unfiltered force of nature with eyebrow-raising, laugh out loud commentary. She pushes just enough to be the perfect foil to Anna’s reluctance to let go. It is Penny, along with Matt, Jess’s best friend, who nudge Anna and Jess so that they can discover what was lost. Another character who nudges, even when her motivation wasn’t to do so, is Anna’s mother. She is awful and judgmental and forces Anna to solidify her boundaries. She is so well crafted that my dislike for her was palpable.
Anna and Jess’s relationship develops, stepping forward, then back, and forward again, and we move with it, willing them on as they tread gently outside their restrictions. And when they do, their relationship is breathtaking.
Finding Jessica Lambert takes our hand from the very beginning, and introduces two strangers, then welcomes two friends, invites us to smile at two lovers, so that in the end two people discover themselves. It’s a wonderful journey.