Review by Linda Hepworth
Published by: HQ 5th August 2021
ISBN: 978 -0008238731 Paperback
The heading ‘Transcript of interview with Mr Rohan Allerton, husband of Abigail Allerton:20 December 2019’ on the opening page of this novel is very effective in introducing a sense of tension and mystery. I immediately found myself asking ‘What’s happened to Abi? Why is Rohan being interviewed, and who’s conducting the interview?’
Moving backwards and forwards in time, often within an individual chapter, and with further intermittent extracts from the interview, as the story unfolds the complexity of Abi and Grace’s relationship is gradually revealed.
It’s difficult to go into much detail about how this story develops without revealing spoilers but it’s a complex well-plotted psychological thriller which explores mental fragility, the destructive nature of toxic, co-dependent relationships and the effects of bullying, manipulative behaviour. I was impressed by the psychological integrity of the author’s portrayal of the dynamics of their relationship whilst they were students and then of Abi’s behaviour as this fragile young woman struggles to cope with the impact of Grace’s return into her life. Whenever there were indications that Abi was gaining insights into the nature of their friendship, I wanted to cheer her on, to encourage her to listen to her instincts but, as we all know, old patterns of behaviour usually prove difficult to change and there were times when it felt really difficult to observe what was happening yet feel powerless to do anything about it!
As Abi is the narrator the story is told mainly from her viewpoint however, the author’s skilful, nuanced character development enabled me to very clearly visualise each of the other characters and to understand their reactions, and interactions, as Abi’s behaviour became increasingly unpredictable. The impact of these changes on Rohan and his close family were particularly well-portrayed, as was their frustration at feeling powerless to help. I mostly found it very easy to empathise with their reactions – although not with his mother’s controlling, intrusive behaviour … I certainly wouldn’t have wanted her to have a key to my house!
In addition to her portrayals of her human characters, the author very effectively made the house a central ‘character’. She captured how certain aspects of the house’s disturbing history, and the decidedly creepy nature of some of the possessions the previous family had left behind, all contributed to Abi’s increasing fearfulness and feelings of being haunted not only by the past, but by what was happening in the present. This lent a particularly Gothic vibe to the story.
Although I found a number of the plot twists rather predictable, I nevertheless enjoyed reading this chilling and unsettling psychological thriller about guilt, obsession, manipulation and deteriorating mental health. Although I initially thought its pacing was rather slow, I soon came to realise how effective this was in drawing me in to Abi’s inner-life, in enabling me to understand why she behaved as she did and to recognise the emotional demons she was struggling with. That I at times felt it a very uncomfortable and distressing place to be is a testament to the author’s skill in conveying how multi-layered our emotional lives are and how insidiously destructive secrets can be.
I received this book as an ARC in exchange for an honest review.