Nothing to See Here made nine of the ‘best of’ lists as compiled by Kate at the end of 2019, with comments like ‘laughed so hard’, ‘a most unusual story of parental love’ and ‘hilarious’ leaping out at me everywhere I looked.
I was expecting a belly laugh or two, at least. But no. It was way too sad for that. Even though the story was told with a tender, light touch, and some of Wilson’s phrasing and imagery was amusing, I couldn’t bring myself to laugh at the plight of any of these loveless characters, all so desperate to find someone to love them and care for them properly.
From the Senator, who had the emotional life of a gnat, and ran for office simply because of family tradition, to Carl the body guard, who just did what he was told. Madison and Lillian, the best friends from high school, from vastly different backgrounds, but both with equally shitty parents. To the poor, poor ten year old twins, who could burst into flames when angry or upset, but not be harmed, who watched their mother kill herself and then got stuck living with their crappy grandparents, until their father, the Senator, finally brought them home.
But not really home. A house on the family estate that has been converted to withstand fire and be very private, where they could be looked after by Lillian discreetly, away from the public eye.
In some ways this is a story about parental love. Lillian’s growing love for the twins gives her life meaning and purpose. Her own dysfunctional upbringing allows her to empathise with the twins, and once the bond is formed, makes her determined to turn things around for them. The twins, in turn, trust her because of her vulnerability. They can sense her desire to protect them (in a way she was not protected) against all odds. Madison has a similar relationship going on with her own young son, Timothy. Determined to do better than her own upbringing, but also determined to get ahead with a career and life of her own. She is able to spin a story at the drop of a hat, a valuable asset for a politician’s wife!
As much as I enjoyed this book, and was utterly engaged in the story from start to finish, there was nothing hilarious about this level of human damage. There is humour in the set-up and the satirical gaze at politics, privilege and power. It’s also amazing how quickly you accept that children can self-combust.
Nothing to See Here is an unforgettable book. It was the perfect choice for a mini-break weekend away. Mr Books and I can both recommend it; just don’t expect to laugh.