This is the first Jodi Picoult novel I have read. It will not be the last, for I found it interesting, informative, and totally absorbing. Jodi Picoult has been prolific, writing over twenty novels during the past twenty years. Not flimsy bodice rippers, but real novels. Leaving Time required an extensive gathering of information to give a solid background of support to the characters.
The story is set in both Africa and America, often in elephant sanctuary parks. Most people — myself included — do not know much about elephants apart from the obvious things. In this novel, there is a great deal about elephants; factual information, not so much about their physical attributes, but about their psychology; their grieving for dead calves, their memories of events, and their individual characters. Long before the end of the novel, you will come to be fascinated by the life and character of elephants.
The basis of the novel is not about elephants, but about a 13-year-old girl’s search for her mother who abandoned her when she was a three-year-old child. The girl, Jenna, has decided that she will track down her mother, believing her to still be alive, and believing that if she had abandoned Jenna, it would be for a compelling reason. Jenna seeks out a psychic who had a reputation for finding people, dead or alive. When this does not work as she expected, she seeks out the police officer who investigated the disappearance of Jenna’s mother.
The writing is clear and straightforward, interesting, yet complex as different people tell their side of the story. The characters do not always get along with each other, which is to say they quarrel, bicker, love, and entertain us all the way through to the end of the book, where we suddenly discover that nothing we had imagined is correct. No doubt this revelation will come as a complete surprise — and like me — lead you to want to read the book all over again knowing what you now know.
That is so much like life; we think we understand something, a person, an event — it all appears open and shut, black and white. And then we find another dimension, where we see it from someone else’s viewpoint, now our understanding dissolves and we are amazed to see that what we thought was blue, is now red. Like discovering the Earth is not flat, but round, that the sun does not circle the Earth, but the Earth circles the sun.
There are different types of fiction, which publishers like to classify, devising genres to aid with sales: romance, fantasy, SF, mystery. Readers can go straight to their favourite section; but many times the best books are not easily classified. They will not be squashed into square holes, and I would say this is true of Leaving Time. This is my kind of novel, one that treats the reader as an intelligent person who wants to learn, wants to enjoy the story, wants it to be connected to reality.
“Elephants are not particularly interested in the bones of other dead animals, just other elephants. Even if elephants come across the body of another elephant that has been long dead, its remains picked apart by hyenas and its skeleton scattered, they bunch and get tense. They approach the carcass as a group, and caress the bones with what can only be described as reverence. They stroke the dead elephant, touching it all over with their trunks and their back feet. They will smell it. They might pickup a tusk or a bone and carry it for a while. They will place even the tiniest bit of ivory under their feet and gently rock back and forth.”