Liz Jensen, ‘The Ninth Life of Louis Drax’

“I’m not most kids … Stuff happens to me that shouldn’t happen, like going on a picnic where you drown.” So begins The Ninth Life of Louis Drax, Liz Jensen’s compelling tale of lies, obsession, and the hidden workings of the human mind.

Louis is a precocious but difficult nine-year-old who has always been accident prone – as he puts it, “Everyone said that one day I was going to have a big accident, an accident to end all accidents.” On a picnic to celebrate his ninth birthday, that is exactly what happens: by the end of it, Louis, having fallen from a cliff into a ravine, is in a deep coma from which he may never awaken, and his father has disappeared. The book centres around the attempts of Pascal Dannachet, Louis’ doctor, to piece together exactly what happened on that fateful day: was it an accident, or did someone push him? This search for the truth is complicated by Dannachet’s growing attachment to Natalie, Louis’ mother, and by the fact that Louis may not be as unable to communicate with the world as everyone assumes.

Darkly amusing and more than a little disturbing, it’s a brilliantly woven story that hints at how badly wrong families can go.