Wish You Were Here: Appeal lies in satisfying blend of familiar Picoult elements

Book review: Personal evolution in Jodi Picoult’s Covid-19 novel

 In her new novel, Picoult deftly manages the  balance between the personal journey and the big issues. Photograph: by David Levenson/Getty Images

In her new novel, Picoult deftly manages the balance between the personal journey and the big issues. Photograph: by David Levenson/Getty Images

Sat, Dec 4, 2021, 06:00

   
 

Book Title:
Wish You Were Here

ISBN-13:
9781473692503

Author:
Jodi Picoult

Publisher:
Hodder & Stoughton

Guideline Price:
£16.99

Chapter one: “March 13, 2020”. The ominous chords play themselves as Jodi Picoult’s latest title opens; nothing good can be on its way. 

Wish You Were Here is Picoult’s 25th novel(not counting coauthored projects with her daughter) and long-time readers have a fairly clear idea what to expect. There will be atopical issue – sometimes, but not always, involving a legal battle. 

There will be information about something that relates to the human conflict of the story, a heavily researched topic that may be handled well (the elephants in Leaving Time, the eugenics programmes in Second Glance) or more clumsily (ancient Egypt in The Book of Two Ways). There will be a twist that you may see coming (it will be well-crafted, but 20 novels from any writer is a masterclass in the tricks they employ). 

Prolific authors build up their readers’ trust in this way, and sometimes it’s needed: who in their right mind wants to revisit spring 2020 unless they know they’re in excellent hands? (Already some readers will mutter: not even then.)

Wish You Were Here does not exactly do anything groundbreaking, either in the context of the literary canon as a whole or as a Jodi Picoult book. Its appeal lies more in the satisfying blend of those familiar Picoult elements, all operating at their best. Narrator Diana, an art dealer, is left to travel solo on a much-anticipated holiday to the Galápagoss (do note the link to Darwin and evolution here) when her doctor-boyfriend can’t get out of work. 

About to turn 30, Diana had planned for him to propose while there; the arrival of Covid-19 in America throws her carefully laid plans into chaos. She lands thousands of miles from home just in time for the island to go into its own lockdown. And so begins a strange new life where she’s forced to re-examine everything she thought she knew. To evolve, in other words.

The balance between the personal journey and the big issues is deftly managed, with didacticism kept to the side. This is the novel the last season of Grey’s Anatomy wishes it could be, a smart and emotional page-turner that makes space for individual life crises in the face of a global one.