The Pact is described as a ‘love story’, but it seems to me more a tale of grief and loss.
The Pact: For eighteen years the Hartes and the Golds have lived next door to each other, sharing everything from Chinese food to chicken pox to carpool duty– they’ve grown so close it seems they have always been a part of each other’s lives. Parents and children alike have been best friends, so it’s no surprise that in high school Chris and Emily’s friendship blossoms into something more. They’ve been soul mates since they were born.
So when midnight calls from the hospital come in, no one is ready for the appalling truth: Emily is dead at seventeen from a gunshot wound to the head. There’s a single unspent bullet in the gun that Chris took from his father’s cabinet–a bullet that Chris tells police he intended for himself. But a local detective has doubts about the suicide pact that Chris has described.
How does one 17-year-old end up dead when she seemed to have the perfect life? She had a great boyfriend, was intelligent and doing well at school, and had a lovely ‘normal’ family, in a lovely neighbourhood. So why did Emily want to kill herself?
Chris and Emily have known each other since forever. Chris was at the birth of Emily when he was six months old, and since then, they have never been apart. Everyone had hoped that they would end up together. Their parents had hoped for it since the day they were born, so when they finally got together at the age of 13, the Golds and the Hartes couldn’t have been happier!
Until their daughter ends up dead, with Chris the only one who knows what actually happened. Was it his fault? Could he have stopped what happened? Or was he the instigator?
The two families are ripped apart when Chris is arrested for first-degree murder. The remaining story follows his trial and how he will survive without Emily, the love of his life.
The main story of The Pact follows two parallels: then and now. ‘Now’ is centred around the death of Emily, the aftermath, and Chris’ trial. ‘Then’ starts with Emily and Chris’ relationship up until the night she dies. Picoult is very clever in the way she conveys Emily. She is a character we never meet, or hear from directly, but we only know her through other characters’ perceptions.
We finally discover the truth as the narrative of the past leads up to Emily’s death in the final 50 pages of The Pact. Don’t worry, there are no spoilers in this review though!
The characters are *mostly* likeable. There are the parents of Chris and Emily, Gus and James, and Melanie and Michael. As with all novels, Picoult explores the relationships between the couples after the death of a child. One parent copes differently to another and they drift apart.
Rather more unusually, Picoult follows the backstories of both the prosecution and defense lawyers, S. Delaney and Jordan McAfee. Jordan is defending Chris, whilst Delaney is trying to prove that he killed Emily.
The issues that Picoult observes are wide and varying, including mental illness, suicide, love, suffering and sex/sexual abuse. She also looks more deeply into relationships and how our lives are affected by them.
Also unusually, she narrates the entire trial. It’s not just a typical brief trial scene with a verdict, but around 100 pages of prosecution, defence, judges, witness statements, etc. It was truly enthralling and a heart-in-my-mouth moment.
The Pact was a brilliant book, and a brilliant read, though slightly cliched in places (but who doesn’t love a bit of cliche?).