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Review: The Weight of Blood

The Weight of Blood - Laura McHugh

Recently I have been drawn to murder mystery and disappearance plots. I cannot pinpoint when this started exactly but I have a feeling it is all Gillian Flynn’s fault. My favourite trope seems to be that of the missing mother or wife and the daughter or husband that needs to find out what happened to them. (I think I need to create a gr shelf for books like this).


The Weight of Blood does fit in perfectly with this obsession of mine. It tells the story of two women going missing a generation apart and of Lucy the daughter of one of them and friend of the other, who takes it upon herself to clear up the mystery surrounding both disappearances.


However, this is more than a simple mystery or whodunit. It’s a story about a small town in Missouri; a story about a closely knit community that doesn’t accept outsiders easily; and most of all a story about women and family. One of my favourite lines from the novel sums this up quite well:


“You grow up feeling the weight of blood, of family. There’s no forsaking kin. But you can’t help when kin forsakes you or when strangers come to be family.”


Apart from telling an interesting and gripping story that does have its fair share of gritty and sometimes violent scenes it is a well-written and well-structured novel. The narrative switches between various points of view and unlike so many other authors McHugh manages to give each character his or her own distinctive voice (so you won’t have to skip back to the beginning of the chapter in order to check who’s talking right now).


Since the story is told from the point of view of (mostly) female characters, we get to see different ways of dealing with life and the problems thrown at women. The female characters of The Weight of Blood have to deal with being stereotyped in various ways by a community that had its roles for women set quite a long time ago. Some of them need to find a way to become part of the community, to keep their loved ones safe, to keep a (family) secret, or simply to keep themselves from being killed. Involuntarily let in on secrets and crimes, they need to decide whose side they are on and how much they value blood ties over honesty and righteousness. Those are questions that concern the characters at various stages of life. I loved how the characters differed in age, showing that, in the end, all of them have to answer the same question and they all have to live with the consequences of their decisions.


This does not mean, however, that this is a male-bashing novel in which men are simply the bad guys. There are enough male characters that have to deal with the same central questions the novel poses. They are simply not featured as prominently as the female characters and not quite as well lined-out, in my opinion.


Still, this is a great and well-written debut about the definition and importance of family, all on the backdrop of a gripping mystery / disappearance plot.