It has come to my attention that this blog has a distinct lack of psychological thrillers within its review pages. Her is a fantastic example of the genre, building the layers of suspense over a ground work of female jealousy and domestic minutiae in an engaging and tense read, leaving us guessing until the very end.
Two women living in one of London’s wealthier suburbs. One of them recognises the other immediately, while the second has no recollection of her new friend. The book flits between Nina and Emma’s POV on each chapter, giving us an entirely different depiction of the same events. Nina appears like a guardian angel to Emma, being a collected woman with a wealthier income and a respectable job as a painter. Emma’s life is a mess of enforced domesticity as she raises her two young children without hopes of ever going back to the television career she once loved. Nina, however, has her own reasons for appearing suddenly in Emma’s world, for motives that are slowly revealed to us as her immersion in Emma’s lonely existence begins to be total.
The greatest success of this novel may not even be in its excruciating and brilliantly tense build-up. It is in the detailed, honest account of modern motherhood and its sacrifices, one of the most honest and raw I have ever read. This doesn’t just apply within Emma’s nightmare of lost career aims, her trapped existence in a house she can never quite find the time to properly clean. Nina is also facing the realities of being the mother to teenager almost ready to leave home. While one secretly yearns for freedom from the total dependence now inflicted upon her, the other pines for the lost adoration she once experienced before the murky emotions of teenagedom set in.
The two women’s lives are painted so clearly for us. As Nina snoops around her prey’s house, she notices the tiny details of Emma’s existence. A toadstool lampshade; shoes she maybe spent a bit too much on; the jumble of magnetic letters on the fridge. Lane notes smells and colours constantly as the two women circle one another, the claustrophobia of the situation becoming almost unbearable. These two seemingly different women unknowingly parallel each other throughout the narrative. Nina knows how to inflict those small cruelties in Emma’s life without ever being discovered. She knows what will hurt her because somewhere along the way, these two women switched places in life. The question hangs over the novel – the resentment Nina holds is huge and yet the event must have been so small Emma doesn’t recall her. The answer is stitched within the narrative, though perhaps we realise before poor Emma does.
As with all great psychological realism, the reflections on human behaviour are some of the most rewarding sections. Aside from the simmering threat of long buried resentment, there is that tentativeness of new female friendship; the way we react in moments of panic; the mother who yearns for the civilised experience of just one restaurant meal. Lane is an author blessed with the ability to draw out those insignificant details of the life we build around ourselves as families, showing how these details can ultimately betray us.