Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. by Nichole Bernier

4 Star

Summer vacation on Great Rock Island was supposed to be a restorative time for Kate, who’d lost her close friend Elizabeth in a sudden accident. But when she inherits a trunk of Elizabeth's journals, they reveal a woman far different than the cheerful wife and mother Kate thought she knew.

The complicated portrait of Elizabeth—her troubled upbringing, and her route to marriage and motherhood—makes Kate question not just their friendship, but her own deepest beliefs about loyalty and honesty at a period of uncertainty in her own marriage.

The more Kate reads, the more she learns the complicated truth of who Elizabeth really was, and rethinks her own choices as a wife, mother, and professional, and the legacy she herself would want to leave behind. When an unfamiliar man’s name appears in the pages, Kate realizes the extent of what she didn’t know about her friend, including where she was really going on the day she died.

Set in the anxious summer after the September 11th attacks, this story of two women—their friendship, their marriages, private ambitions and fears—considers the aspects of ourselves we show and those we conceal, and the repercussions of our choices.

Lydia - 4 Star

The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. is an unflinchingly honest novel about love, friendship, marriage and motherhood. It takes us on a journey through one woman’s life via her journals after her untimely death and that of her friend Kate to whom Elizabeth has bequeathed the journals in her will. Kate’s only instructions are that she determine their fate and that she must read them from the beginning.

I alternated between finding this novel extremely depressing and hopeful and uplifting. These two women didn’t really know each other at all – but how well do we ever really know someone? Our best friends? Husbands? Wives? And I found it really sad. To reveal our true selves takes courage and this novel follows one woman’s struggles to cope not only with the loss of her best friend, but 9-11 which occurred a short time later. As she reads, Kate begins to realize how little she knew Elizabeth and when she begins questioning her own life the journals help her come to terms with the debilitating fear she keeps hidden and struggles with in private.

The idea of leaving journals behind is something I’ve struggled with personally, so I found the exploration of how to dispose of them fascinating. I’ve kept journals off and on since childhood and I certainly don’t relish the thought of having anyone read them. The thought actually makes me nauseous and desperate to detonate them. But then again, maybe those closest to me would finally understand the real me, even if it wasn’t what they wanted to hear.

Elizabeth D is a reminder that we are all complex, multi-faceted people and that when we get comfortable with one side of a person, we may never look to see other sides or see how they may be struggling. There are many poignant revelations and thoughts in this novel and there were many sentences I re-read and went – Yes! That’s exactly it and would sit in wonder. This novel made me think. It made me appreciate my friendships and family. I made me want to reach out to all my girlfriends and give them a hug – especially all the mothers.

The portrayal of motherhood in this novel felt right to me, although I felt it overly depressing at times. It seemed a very honest portrayal and wish I could offer a more rounded opinion but I don’t have children. I have heard many stories of those with young toddlers and babe in arms though, so I think it was. Truth be told, at times this book made me question even having children because it was that depressing at times. The lack of support for mothers in our modern world was explored with these two women’s feelings of isolation and their meeting at an introductory baby and me playgroup. Didn’t it used to take a village?

Mothers that have felt lonely, isolated and desperate for adult conversation will appreciate this novel as will those that have ever felt judged by others. Girlfriends should read this and talk about it with each other. The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. would be fantastic for a book club with all the discussion it inspires. I look forward to more from Nichole Bernier!

Thank you to Crown Publishing for our review copy!

Connect with Nichole Bernier here:


  1. Wow, sounds like a really complex novel. Interesting that you talk about wanting to detonate your journals. I kept one for a number of years, then stopped because I felt I was just whining about my life (was I doing it wrong?). So, one day, I burned it in a symbolic gesture to erase all those negative thoughts. Now, I do have a notebook by my bed where I write ideas or crazy dreams, stuff like that, but no whining!

  2. Lydia — first, thank you for your thoughtful review. It means much to me hearing that my novel about friendship resonated for you, even if its view of relationships sometimes includes missed communication opportunities like ships passing in the night.

    And yet I feel a burden to right this view of motherhood I've left you with, or at least balance it. My five children are a tremendous blessing, and my experience mothering them has added depth, joy and maturity to my life — as well as making the most basic tasks into a three-legged race. Hands down, I wouldn't be the writer I am without them.

    For a more rounded glimpse at the humor and poignancy of parenthood, you might enjoy some of the blog pieces on my author site.


    Enjoy your summer of reading!
    Best, Nichole



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