The Need By Helen Phillips – A Review

Publisher: Chatto & Windus

Publication Date: 9th July 2019

This book defies categorising in my opinion. It’s pitched as a ‘speculative thriller’ and I can see why. But what starts out as an intensely foreboding ‘house intruder’ kind of deal, swiftly turns into something very different!

I am going to struggle a little with this review I think, purely down to the fact that a lot of the aspects of the story that I would like to discuss would give away HUGE plot points.  I can only give you a briefest of brief synopsis (in my own words as always) and then I will tell you as much as I can about my thoughts without dropping any spoilers in!

The story revolves around Molly.  A paleobotomist (essentially someone who digs for and categorizes plant fossils), a very stressed and frayed mother of two small children, Viv 4 and Ben who I think is around 18 months.  The book opens with a bang! well not quite a bang, more like the sound of footsteps in the other room when Molly is home alone with the two children….

There is an intruder in the house.

A silent intruder wearing  a deer’s head mask (I know!).

This intruder seems to know EVERYTHING about Molly and her family.

But who can it be? And what will happen if Molly follows their very specific instructions?

The first few chapters are unbelievably tense! We veer from the very real and present danger of the intruder in Molly’s house and chapters which give us some recent information surrounding Molly’s work on the dig she is in the middle of.  Her and her colleagues have been coming across strange modern items incongruous with the ancient fossils they are expecting to find. But these items all having something askew or odd about them. A coke bottle with the instantly recognisable logo….however the lettering is slanting the wrong way, a child’s toy soldier….nothing odd about that, except this one has the tail of a monkey.  Perhaps the strangest and most controversial item discovered is an edition of the bible where God is referred to as a woman.  This item has caused a stir with the media and subsequently the dig site that Molly works on are offering tours to the general public, to visit the site pit and view the items found. But Molly is uncomfortable about these items and the tours, and feels a sense of growing unease each time she visits the pit.

As I said at the beginning of this review, I can’t really discuss any more than that plot wise! But what I can tell you is when the intruder’s identity is revealed (quite close to the start) I did think, ‘really?’……I maybe did a tiny little eyeroll……just a weeny one.  But then I sucked it up and thought, yeah why the devil not? You see this is where the ‘speculative’ part of this speculative thriller is heaped on in spades! It’s not even a case of suspending your disbelief for while, it’s just a case of go with it! Just accept what you are being told at face value and try not to let it batter your head!

You really do need to concentrate hard at certain points, so it’s a book you will want to read when you have some quiet time to devote to it.  I read the very tense opening at night in bed and as someone who suffers from night terrors this was perhaps not the best move!  The next night I was alone in the house and didn’t even pick the book up.  After the intruders identity is revealed, the story takes a very different kind of sinister turn, which meant I wasn’t so tense around reading it alone.

The over arching theme of a struggling, exhausted mother trying so hard to do her best for her children was the aspect of the book I enjoyed the most.  I do like a struggling mother, especially when there are hints that maybe the fears are all in the mothers very exhausted, anxious mind. Could she just be so completely wiped out that she’s imagining these events?

The children themselves are such vibrant characters in this book, especially little Viv.  She acts exactly as a 4 year old would and her conversation and behaviours are very  believable. She was just cute enough not to be sickly sweet, still a handful and very high spirited but utterly authentic.

I have read lots of reviews since finishing this book, and there are a wide range of opinions.  I think it has the potential to be very divisive and people seem to either love it or hate it.  I fall into the love it camp at the moment, but I need to let a book settle in my mind for a little while to see whether I really did love it or not.  If it still plays on my mind for a while after finishing it then that’s a sure bet that I enjoyed it.  The quirky nature of this book means that I certainly won’t forget it!

I have been pushing it on to my friends just so that I have someone to talk to about it! It’s one of those books that you really just need to thrash out!

Apologies for the vague synopsis but I really couldn’t give anything more away.  This book needs to be discovered by the reader.

I would urge you to at least give it a whirl! You’ll either hate me or thank me for the recommendation but I’m desperate to know your thoughts!

Thank you as always to the publisher and Polly Collier for my copy for review.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

3 thoughts on “The Need By Helen Phillips – A Review

  1. I agree with your review wholeheartedly – a difficult book to categorise indeed! A modern day ‘bodysnatcher’ tale was my take on it. I enjoyed it a lot, but would have loved to hear more about the ‘other’ world as there seemed to be a lot we could have learned about e.g. I’d have loved to know more about the bible and the monkey.


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