Alice Salmon, 25, talented and beautiful, has drowned in the lake in her university town Southampton. Drunk and with cocaine in her blood, her story captures the imagination of the nation's media. Is she a cautionary tale of what happens when girls go wild in a binge-drinking culture? Or did something more sinister cause the inebriated Alice to fall into the freezing cold water in the middle of a dark winter's night?
In the aftermath of her death, Alice's former professor Jeremy Cooke, an anthropologist, starts a new research project. He decides to attempt to map Alice's life using her online footprint as well as information collected from those who knew her and loved her to, as he describes it, "put her back together again." But why is this fusty old professor, who still prefers to write longhand and cycles over campus on an ancient bike, so concerned with telling this story; putting this particular life back together again?
What She Left is the most modern of epistolary novels. It's chapters are made up of blog posts from Alice's best friend Meagan, online forums, Alice's own diary, letters from Alice's boyfriend, transcripts of police interviews, long, pompous longhand letters from Cooke to his best friend, another scientist whose work far outshone Cooke's own and assorted other forms of modern-day communication such as online news articles and Twitter postings. This is very cleverly done, with a complete picture of Alice and the web of relationships surrounding her slowly being built up, all working towards the answer of one question: how did Alice die?
This a really enjoyable, engaging book. Four and a half stars (I dropped half a star because Cooke was such a repulsive character. I don't need to like the characters in the books I read, but he was really icky.)