Book Review – WHO WE WERE by Lucy Neave

Who We Were by Lucy NeaveWho We Were Synopsis: 

Set during the Cold War, Who We Were is an intimate and powerful love story about trust, obsession and the truth itself.

Melbourne, 1938. Annabel’s dream is to be a scientist. Falling in love is not part of her plan. But when she meets Bill Whitton she knows instantly that they are destined for each other.

She has to wait for him to come back from the war. Their life together, as lovers and microbiologists, can now begin.

The newlyweds emigrate to New York. They are at once captivated by fellow immigrants Frank, an ex-Communist from Hungary, and his playwright wife, Suzy. It’s the 1950s and the Cold War is in full swing. Frank, Annabel and Bill find work on weapons projects, experimenting with lethal infectious diseases.

Did they cross the world for this? Annabel’s whole being is anchored in her ardour for Bill, and their work together. But other forces—suspicion, paranoia, deceit—are at play. Everything begins to unravel: her work, her career and her marriage. (Text Publishing)


I read Who We Were by Lucy Neave in a single day. While not without its weaknesses, this novel was exceedingly difficult to put down.

Neave displays such control within her prose. Her evocative descriptions are achieved with language and phrasing that is commonplace. This is analogous to the control her lead character and narrator Annabel seeks within her life.

I watched him straightening the collar of his jacket, trying to pull down the cuffs of his shirt, and a shiver passed through me. I was seeing a sequence of events that had already happened: a man in trousers that are half an inch too short and a coat that’s tight across the shoulders. I would talk to him; I would know him. He was my future. I could see that clearly, even if he was blind to the fact.

The love story underpinning this novel is relatively light on the romance but heavy with devotion – its early days, interrupted by war, and their relationship influenced by Annabel’s atypical career choice for a woman at that time. Annabel sees their relationship as a meeting of minds and she places great weight in her understanding what makes her returned soldier tick – they are a team united that can make a difference. But with talent and recognition comes hubris, and devotion morphs into obsession, at work and at home.

Is Annabel’s analysis of her situation and personal motives as clear as she believes them to be? Who can anyone really trust?

Many of the characters within this novel are masked by design, but others are just enigmas.

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Lucy Neave slowly peels back the layers of deceit, building an uncommon intensity and darkness in this psychological thriller.

And, while the final twist of the knife did not quite live up to the crescendo that preceded it, it certainly gave me cause for thought.

After having read Who We Were, I now have much greater appreciation for Neave’s title choice, along with this author’s potential. I look forward to seeing what Neave publishes in the future.

BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5

BOOK DETAILS: Who We Were by Lucy Neave ( Booktopia | KobobooksAmazon )

Genre: Drama, Romance, Mystery, Thriller, Historical

This review counts towards my participation in the Aussie Author Challenge 2014 and the 2014 Australian Women Writer’s Challenge.

Author Information: Lucy Neave completed a Masters of Fine Arts in Writing in the US on a Fulbright scholarship, and has received a Varuna New Writers’ Fellowship and Australian Society of Authors Mentorship. Her fiction has appeared in Australian and American literary journals, including SoutherlyOverland and Lost Magazine, and in Best Australian Stories 2009. She teaches Creative Writing at the Australian National University.

– Listen to an interview with 4ZZZ FM Book Club

– Check out Lucy Neave’s website

Other reviews of Who We Were : ireckonthat ; In Daily Adelaide ; Melbourne Review

* My receiving a paperback copy of this title from Text Publishing for review purposes in no way hindered the expression of my honest opinions in the above.