I picked up this book because I had liked The Chocolate Money by the same author. Norton has a talent for brutal honesty, holding back nothing about her protagonists’ motives and thoughts. In The Chocolate Money we witness the fraught relationship a privileged young woman has with her eccentric heiress mother. An heiress herself, Norton writes what she knows, and in If You Left, she continues that trend by exploring a wealthy woman’s relationship with her family as she struggles with mental health issues, which Norton has opened up about in various interviews.
It is easy to sympathize with the girl in The Chocolate Money, an isolated victim of her mother’s whims and moods. But the woman in If You Left, Althea, was harder to relate to. She struggles to connect with her adopted daughter, Clem, she feels humiliated by her husband Oliver's blatant affairs but worries that she can't make it without him. And she often isn't able to summon enough energy to deal with the daily business of living. Although we can give her credit for her complete honesty, she somehow fails to foster understanding in the reader. We are left feeling frustrated, disappointed, and not very hopeful that she will find stability or satisfaction. And that, I think, is the point. Norton wants us to appreciate the trap of Althea’s depression, which leaves her always questioning why her family stays when she feels that she is failing them, and why in turn she stays with them when she’d rather be alone.
Aside from the strength of Althea’s self-examination, the book lacked cohesion and direction, and puttered out to a non-ending. I definitely recommend you pick up The Chocolate Money instead.