Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

Our House – Louise Candlish

Psychological Thriller
5*s

Every time I see Louise Candlish has a new book out, I dance a little dance. Why? Because in the crowded psychological thriller arena she takes a sideways look at modern life to create tales that are on the edge of credulity, and yet, so believable when they flow from her pen.

Such is the story told in Our House. If you read the synopsis you would doubt how realistic it is for a woman, mother of two boys, to return home unexpectedly one afternoon to find that her house has been sold and her possessions are nowhere to be seen. Really? I thought as my eyebrows shot up way past my hairline… that simply couldn’t happen, could it?

What makes this book particularly brilliant is the detailed plotting and the structure of the book. Fiona tells us her story via a podcast called The Victim where women, it is mainly women, explain how they’ve been duped, betrayed or hurt to an audience who comment along as the show unfolds. As I said, oh so modern and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find out that a variety of this idea is a real thing! Fiona takes us back to the time when she split up with her husband Bram through the last few months where they settled on a ‘birds nest’ arrangement for custody of the boys. And with my finger firmly on the pulse of modern life, I already knew this is where the children of a broken partnership stay put in their own home and the parents swap in and out like weather house men and women to care for them on designated days. At other times, when they were not in the house, Fiona and Bram stayed in a small rented flat. Oh so modern but you have to wonder how practical in real life…

Bram tells us his side of the same story, where we find out everything that Fiona doesn’t know, via a letter. This is a man tormented by his mistakes and trying to put things right. And despite all that he confesses to, Louise Candlish makes him quite a likeable man. I think this is key to the plotline retaining such a sense of realism and so despite my initial reservations I had no trouble believing the events that unfold.

Along with the two versions we are grounded in the present, Friday 13 January 2017 the day Fiona discovers her house has been sold and her estranged husband and sons are missing. It is the day that the remnants of Fiona’s life that she has been clinging to disintegrates.

Of course Fiona and Bram don’t live in isolation – their house after all is worth millions, in a sought after area which has risen in value. They have neighbours who try to do the right thing following the breakdown of the couple’s marriage, keeping the links in place, if weakened by the change in status quo. The author has a brilliant eye for the way people behave and so just as I so enjoyed her previous novels set in similar upwardly mobile settings, the characters her really do make the story come alive.

If you like your domestic noir to be something out of the ordinary you really must read Our House. The unbelievable is turned on its head, the characters so lifelike you will feel you know them well all in an undeniably up-to-date setting. A fully deserved five stars from Cleopatra Loves Books.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to Simon & Schuster for providing me with an advance copy of Our House, this unbiased review is thanks to them and the author Louise Candlish for yet another gripping read!.

First Published UK: 5 April 2018
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
No of Pages: 448
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

Reviews of other books by Louise Candlish

The Disappearance of Emily Marr
Other People’s Secrets
The Sudden Departure of the Frasers
The Swimming Pool

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Family Next Door – Sally Hepworth

Contemporary Fiction
4*s

I’m a nosy person, one of my favourite occupations is imagine the lives of the people that live in the houses I pass on my way home. In a different age I suspect I would have been very much like my grandmother watching the comings and goings in the street. So it is unsurprising that I was drawn to this novel set in Melbourne following the lives of the people living on a cul-de-sac, Pleasant Court.

The neighbourhood includes a mother who left her daughter in a park, but three years on, Essie now has her mother Barbara close at hand as she has moved into a house on Pleasant Close too. The two women meet up regularly and Barbara is besotted with her grand-daughters. But Essie longs for a close friend, the neighbours wave and smile but they are not the type to pop in and out of each other’s houses. Then Isabelle rents the house which has been empty following a fire. Where she came from and what she does, and even her sexuality is a bit of a mystery.

In another house Angie’s real-estate business is going well, her two sons are enamoured with their X-Box and her husband is a photographer. He is gorgeous and handy in the home and yes, sometimes he is too interested in everyone else but Angie knows she is lucky. Fran is less obviously happy obsessively pounding the streets following the birth of her second daughter. What is she running from?

It is very hot, the neighbours are struggling to keep cool and Isabelle’s interest in the neighbours and their children is a bit intense.

Sally Hepworth has created a book that suits nosy people down to the ground. All of the characters are shockingly realistic with the dialogue pitch-perfect. There is a real knack to dovetailing interactions between the characters and their private thoughts and this author knows just how to make it work without resorting to the obvious sarcastic tone that many authors use to get around that gap between the public and private personas.

If the characterisation is spot-on the plot also swings gracefully over the bar. I thought I knew which direction the book was going in, I was resoundingly wrong and although the author did lead us down a path, the realisation wasn’t born from a left-field twist, the author went for a far subtler, and as a result, far more realistic swivel.

There are plenty of secrets to be uncovered which changes everything on Pleasant Close over the course of a summer and the resultant scenarios are on the whole things that you will have seen and no doubt had long intense conversations about. Despite the key storyline being unusual ultimately this book is about a variety of relationships which acknowledges that each one is different and often they can be complicated and of course that sometimes there are no easy answers. Whilst this book isn’t ‘heavy’ it does more than wrapping everything up in a pretty bow.

The overall result was a satisfying one. I felt for the characters when various secrets were revealed which meant that I had to seriously blink back those tears having stupidly decided that this would be a nice gentle book to read on a train. Sorry to the bemused man who sat opposite me!

I’d like to say a huge thank you to Hodder & Stoughton who allowed me to read The Family Next Door ahead of publication in the UK today. This unbiased review is my thanks to them, and the author Sally Hepworth for a thoroughly absorbing read.

First Published UK: 22 March 2018
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
No of Pages: 352
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Sweet William – Beryl Bainbridge

Classic Fiction 4*s
Classic Fiction
4*s

Ann is a young woman who works at the BBC in London and when we first meet her she is waving off her fiancé, academic who is flying to America to start a new life. Soon Ann will follow. Ann’s mother is very proud of the new life, less enamoured it would seem of Gerard, the fiancé particularly his carnal desires, in reality than on paper.

I wonder how differently this story would play out if it was set now, and not in the midst of the sexual revolution. Why? Because Ann meets William, a married man who captivates and thrills Ann in a way Gerard never has. William visits Ann’s bed and then cycles off to look after his children while their mother works and has a font of bizarre tales to distract from his frequent absences, the furtive phone calls and crucially his intentions. However William is an important man, he is putting on a play which will tour England, and even though Ann is less than impressed by the play itself, she understands that her role is to support, so out goes the job at the BBC so that she can devote herself to this exceptional man. Oh the irony.

This is not only Ann’s story but in the shadows are other women connected to William, the wife, the mother, her landlady, her cousin and those women who phone up looking for him at odd times of the night and day. It is also the story of Ann’s mother, a woman who lives in Brighton with Ann’s father, a man who seems entirely eclipsed by his indomitable wife, who represents those who lived before the sexual revolution.

Ann felt it was funny that anyone should call Mrs Walton ordinary. It wasn’t an adequate word. She thought of her mother’s piano playing her scheming, her ability to read French, the strength of her convictions, the inflexibility of her dreadful will.

The truth is that when Ann met William, she was woefully unprepared, she’s an unworldly girl who it seems has none of the support that most women today enjoy. Perhaps because the women that knew them both were complicit in covering up William’s fickle ways, his selfishness and his disregard for Ann’s feelings.

She didn’t know enough about men. Her mother said they were brutes, self-absorbed and secretive. But William wasn’t like that: he was open and he loved her and he had forced her to meet his wife.

This love story takes a turn for the worse, as well you might expect but there is plenty of black humour, something that Beryl Bainbridge employs to great effect. To be honest the black humour is made infinitely easier because I don’t think I am the first person to read this book who wants to shake Ann and truly open her eyes to the half-truths she knows. So while I felt a smidgen of sympathy for her plight, I couldn’t believe she couldn’t see what was right in front of her. After all William may have lied but when pushed he really makes the situation very obvious:

‘But Edna needs to look after me. I give her money for the housekeeping… she doesn’t want to be done out of cooking for me. Who am I to deny her that?’
He bent his head humbly. There was a flaw in his argument, she knew, but she couldn’t put it into words. He’d denied Edna everything else; it didn’t’ seem particularly cruel to tell her he didn’t want any food.

The more I read of this author’s work, the more I enjoy it. Beryl Bainbridge is definitely my find of the year with her exceptionally clever writing and yet still immensely readable. This black comedy published in 1975 both conjures up a bygone time and yet, I know that Sweet William still exists, maybe in a slightly different guise, although I suspect this was his true era, when there were plenty of naïve women just waiting to fall for his charms and willing to shake of the older generation’s morals that had protected the majority of previous generations.

I received my copy of Sweet William from the publishers Open Road Integrated Media who are republishing a number of this authors books, this one on 29 November 2016.

First Published UK: 1975
Publisher: Open Road Integrated Media
No of Pages: 192
Genre: Classic Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Reviews of other books by Beryl Bainbridge

Harriet Said
An Awfully Big Adventure

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

Apple Tree Yard – Louise Doughty

Women's Fiction 5*'s
Women’s Fiction
5*’s

This has to be one of the best books I have read this year, I have been recommending it to all my friends who have all appreciated the tip!

What a fantastic story, the prose grabs you as soon as the first page is turned with the description of Yvonne Carmichael writing a letter to her lover. Yvonne is a respected scientist, a geneticist, married to Guy a fellow scientist and has two grown up children. The model woman so why, a few pages in, is she on trial?

The story is told with the events slowly teased out, but not so slowly that it is frustrating, the characters so alive that I could believe that I had met them and walked the very streets of London to Apple Tree Yard. The court room scenes were clearly well researched, I have since found out that Louise Doughty spent some time at the Old Bailey with the prosecution at a murder trial, this layer of authenticity only adds to the story being told. The story involves Mr X, Guy and a cast of others whose lives change because of Yvonne actions. Even better, just as you think you know everything and all that remains is the tying up of loose ends, there is a clever sting in the tale.

The story isn’t just about adultery and lust, it is as much about the way women perceive themselves and how they are judged by others. It is about the stories we tell ourselves, our own narrative, and the way this changes when someone else is let into these stories. I can’t recommend this book highly enough,it is really the best book I have read this year.

If ever there is a book to make someone stop on the brink of having an affair this book is it!