Publication Date: 13th June 2019
This book is the kind of psychological thriller that isn’t overtly in your face terrifying. It is insidiously unnerving in such a clever way which had me well and truly hooked!
The story opens with a brief depiction of what appears to be a body lying outdoors somewhere.
We then move on to our unnamed protagonist, a pregnant author living in London with her husband, who one evening gets attacked by a man in the street. She is understandably shaken up, injured, frightened and uncomprehending that something like this could happen to her and even more so, what kind of person could do this.
Mark, her husband is also understandably upset and angry on her behalf however over time he is keen for her to move on from the incident and not let it define her or their lives.
She is cautious and nervy but also desperate to live a normal life with Mark and their new baby, Sam. Fast forward 3 years and she has had enough of life in London and is eager to get away up north, anywhere but London and the reminders of her attack. She applies for a job as a creative writing teacher in a college and makes plans to move to a rural village with both Mark and their son.
However, when it comes to the crunch, Mark decides he cannot simply leave his job as a teacher and ditch the kids part way through a term. It is decided that he will stay in London for the remainder of the school year and travel up north at the weekends, with no guarantees that he will move there permanently.
Life in the isolated village is lonely and initially our protagonist wonders whether she has done the right thing. Being extra careful to make sure she has locked the doors properly, ears pricked up for every little noise and creak in the house, she feels solitary and finds it difficult to relax and settle.
One of her distractions from the loneliness is her work. She takes on task after task and relishes her busy schedule despite very much burning the candle at both ends. She initially feels a little bit like a fish out of water with her creative writing MA students, almost feeling like a fraud with her one successful book.
When tempers and frustrations flare between the students, arguments over the creative process and how women are portrayed within literature, she tries to stay within the rules and boundaries that the college stipulates. However, there is one particular student who she becomes almost too interested in and distracted by. Nicholas produces his work based on truth. Unsettling and dark work which has both the teacher and his fellow students speculating how much of his writing has actually happened in his real life. Things take a more sinister turn when our protagonist finds herself and her life a focus of Nicholas’s stories.
When the teacher/student relationship crosses boundaries despite her protestations, events are set into motion that leave her at her most open, at risk and vulnerable.
I’ll say no more than that plot wise!
What I loved about this book was the absolutely perfect pacing. Little signs and signals that things are not progressing quite as well as planned for our protagonist. A building sense of unease and trepidation surrounding her relationship with Nicholas and his dark past. This is of course heightened by the isolated rural setting.
I also very much enjoyed the mixed media that interspersed the normal narrative. Witness statements, complaints, the stories that each of the students were working on. This helped keep me invested, not that I needed much help! There is just something about this book that propels you along and keeps you turning the pages to see what the blazes will happen next!
There is also an important thread running through the book surrounding the way that women are portrayed not only in literature but how women are treated by men via the way our protagonist is treated not only by her students but by her male superior at the university and male colleagues. It can make for quite uncomfortable reading at times.
There is a theme of sexual assault just to warn you, an assault which happens when the protagonist acquiesces to what is happening to her as she feels its the easiest option. I found it very interesting reading about the aftermath of this assault, she pretty much carries on as usual, with the exception of a trip to obtain the morning after pill. The desire to keep things normal and on an even keel for herself and her son is the ultimate goal. Difficult to digest as a reader at times though.
This is for sure not a fast paced thriller in the usual sense. I seen it referred to as a ‘literary thriller’ and whilst I don’t much care for the term I think it’s the closest one we’ll get to describing this book. The character interactions and their relationships were the main pull for me with this book. The plot was secondary.
I really enjoyed this book and would be very happy to recommend it.
Thank you to Alison Barrow and the publisher for my proof copy.
See you all soon.
Amanda – Bookish Chat xx