I was a huge fan of Renée Knight’s debut novel Disclaimer and so I had that inevitable mixture of excitement and conscious lowering of expectations as I approached this, the author’s second book. I didn’t need to have a moment of worry, I loved it.
This is a claustrophobic book which is mainly set within the mind of the titular secretary, Christina Butcher. Christina was employed by Mina Appleton as a secretary, almost on a whim, back in the day before personal assistants became de rigour, but essentially that is exactly what Christina was. She wasn’t just employed to help Mina with the family business, a supermarket, she was there to interview the nannies for her children, by the gifts for everyone and anyone, and be on call day and night to do Mina’s bidding.
You might imagine that Christina is a single woman free to devote her time and energy to her role for eighteen years but not so, as Christina tells us her story, we find that she was happily married with a young daughter.
This is exactly the type of psychological thriller I most enjoy, it isn’t a fast moving sweeping and swooping novel, instead it is a study of a relationship albeit one between two women in a business environment, just think given the nature of the work, how many dynamite pieces of information both personal and work-related that Christina has picked up over the years. We also get to see just what Christina has given, and sacrificed, in order to appease her whip-cracking boss.
Neither woman is particularly likeable, if you need to like at least one of the lead characters you probably won’t enjoy this book quite as much as I did. However, both came across as real, in fact, one of the aspects I particularly appreciated was how realistic this book felt. As I mentioned Mina is in the supermarket business and this strand of the storyline isn’t glossed over, we hear and witness some meetings with farmers, and we can easily compare the ethics with those we have read about with the national supermarkets. All interesting and giving every appearance as being researched and not just plonked into the book as a pet cause.
As the book develops there are several minor storylines featuring more sympathetic characters and these build towards what is an absolutely explosive ending. So although the book is what could be called a slow burn, for me it didn’t feel long enough – I was left knowing that we’d exhausted every avenue so I wasn’t left longing for me from that perspective, but having been so caught up within the storyline I was sad to say goodbye.
I’m sure the ending will divide readers, and for this reason alone I would definitely recommend The Secretary as a book club read, but I wasn’t disappointed by it as I enjoyed the sentiment and felt it was entirely in keeping with all that came before.
I’d like to say a huge thank you to Random House UK for allowing me to read a copy of The Secretary before it is published today, 21 February 2019. This unbiased review is my thanks to them and to Renée Knight for a completely addictive read.