Some secrets aren’t meant to be kept…
When Grace returns to Abi’s life, years after they fell out at university, Abi can’t help but feel uneasy. Years ago, Grace’s friendship was all-consuming and exhausting.
Now happily married, Abi’s built a new life for herself and put those days behind her. And yet as Grace slips back into her life with all the lethal charm she had before, Abi finds herself falling back under her spell…
Abi’s husband, Rohan, can’t help but be concerned as his wife’s behaviour changes. As their happy home threatens to fall apart, he realises that there’s something deeply unnerving about Grace. Just what influence does this woman have over his wife, and why has she come back now?
I seem to have read a few books in the last year that focus on the dynamics of female friendship. From the teenage years of Madam, where the school regime pits the girls against each other, to the middle aged years of The Nearest Thing to Crazy where a woman forms a friendship with a newcomer to the village and regrets it bitterly. This seems like a very rich mine for writers to delve into and this is an interesting addition to these psychological thrillers. Our oldest friends, so the saying goes, remain friends because they know where the bodies are buried. Our ‘besties’ are often the closest person to us in life, and in my experience have held me up when times have been too hard to keep going. When these close relationships go wrong, the mental scars can last a lifetime. Abi and Grace’s relationship seemed to become toxic at university, when Abi suspected Grace of trying to control her life. Soon after university Abi married Rohan and now they are renovating a house together. The house was derelict and as they’ve settled into it and started with their plans, Abi feels the years of history in the old house. The creak on the stair created by decades of weary feet. The sense of owners long gone and the weight of their memories.
When Grace writes to say she’s coming to the U.K. after years working abroad, the timing is serendipitous. Rohan has to work in New York for a while. Abi is going to be creating pieces for an art exhibition. Grace needs a place to stay till she finds her feet, and Abi feels enough water has passed under the bridge, maybe it will be fun to reconnect with her old friend? She’s probably changed in the intervening years and a catch up could be just what she needs to inspire her art. Besides it will be nice to have some company while Rohan is away.
It turns out that Abi is right, she does find her house guest inspiring and I was drawn in to the author’s descriptions of her work which were vivid and full of life. Her output soars and she’s making great headway into the pieces needed for her exhibition. I was interested in the psychology of creativity and the author taps into that long term link between artistic success and the deterioration of the mind. As Abi’s art is elevated, the rest of her life is soon suffering. It seems that maybe Grace has not changed after all. Abi can recognise her controlling behaviour and the passive aggressive way she deals with conflict, but wonders if she can handle it until her work is ready. No artist wants to give up their muse and Abi thinks that because she can recognise the behaviour, she won’t be manipulated. It’s like watching a fly edging ever closer to a spider’s web.
We know there has been a traumatic event in Abi’s past because the author drip feeds us little snippets of the past, in order to increase the tension. What this also does is create a bit of suspicion around our narrator. She values honesty in herself and others, even where it might sound harsh, but is she affording us the same honesty? Should we really trust our narrator. I thought the author cleverly linked the state of the house with Abi’s state of mind. She starts to neglect the house, becoming ever more hyper-focused on her paintings. Her life is starting to fall apart. Her in-laws are very concerned, but are struggling to intervene. As Rohan returns he notices a change in his wife, but puts it down to a fierce burst of creativity. However, as time passes he starts to wonder whether this friendship is healthy for his wife and their marriage. Yet, Grace seems to possess an incredible charm. Will she start to manipulate him too? There are interspersed sections that read like formal interviews with Rohan, but we don’t know if they’re with a lawyer, the police, a psychiatrist..? This had the effect of making me race forward with the book, dying to know how it unfolds. In the end though, it was best to just sit back and let the twists and turns reveal themselves. This was a competent and enjoyable thriller, with a fascinating and dangerous female friendship at the centre.
Published HQ 5th August 2021
Anna became a published author after the manuscript for her first novel, ‘Coming Home’, won the Montegrappa Prize for First Fiction at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in 2013. The book itself was published in 2015 and, since then, she’s written three more novels in the ‘domestic noir’ genre: ‘The Disappearance’, ‘The One That Got Away’ and ‘I Know You’.
On her Amazon author page she admits that she likes to set things up for her readers so they think they know what’s happening and then, very gently, she starts to pull the carpet out from underneath so that the reader– and often the characters themselves – are never quite sure what’s really going on. Scratch the surface of her characters’ lives and you’ll always find something dark going on. She’s currently working on a fifth book, which will be something slightly different.
She live in Dubai, UAE, with her husband, two children and a little Tonkinese rescue cat. She writes every day while the cat sleeps alongside her on a pile of old manuscripts. Writing isn’t an easy job, but she wouldn’t change it for the world.