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Novel set in Hollywood and Hampstead

22nd October 2019

The Confession by Jessie Burton, novel set in Hollywood and Hampstead.

The Guardian calls the book an “understated triumph.Novel set in Hollywood and Hampstead

A novel by Jessie Burton is always a thing of pleasure, unusual story telling coupled with skilful writing. The Confession is about many things, primarily it is about what it means to grow up without a mother’s figure to guide and offer unconditional love.

Back in 1980s Hampstead, Elise and Connie are embarking on a lesbian relationship, a time when it was not easy to be openly gay. Connie has a film contract for one of her novels and both women fly over to Hollywood and settle there. Elise never really knew her mother, as she died when she was 9 years old. Connie, as an older woman, offers her the parental figure for which Elise craves. At first the balance of their relationship works well.

Within a short time unconsciously Elise has split their situation into Connie having everything – the success, the friends, the confidence, the talent – and Elise trailing along with nothing. Gradually she shifts into adaptive and ‘victim’ child mode and sets about having a relationship with someone in Connie’s circle. She can justify this action because she overheard something that spurs her into destructive behaviour.

Move forward to present day Hampstead and Connie has long since returned from the frivolous West Coast and is living on her own. Her hands have become decrepit and she seeks an assistant who arrives in the form of Rose. Rose purports to be someone called Laura who is in fact Elise’s daughter and she feels she needs to be deceptive and adopt this cloak and dagger scenario. Rose has such a strong desire to connect – somehow – with her mother, who she never really knew, and Connie seems like a good starting point. Rose/Laura now spends her life weighed down by the deceit she has set in motion, waiting to be caught out at any moment. Elise, you see, abandoned Rose when she was just a baby and left no trace as to her whereabouts, then or since.

Thus, there are two generations of women growing up without a mother. This is a novel of relationships, of maternal bonds and lack thereof and how one can cling to what one has lost. Yet, the narrative is as much about loss and yearning as it is about choices that can be made for a more positive future. One can reframe one’s life in a positive way and value the elements that one does have… and over time and through pregnancy, Rose indeed starts to adjust. Echoes of events and people appear in Connie’s books, paintbrush sweeps of hinted relationships do leave Rose wondering how much is fiction, how much is based on real life…. (the cover of the book refers to the title of one of Connie’s novels).

There are harsh words and consequences with Connie having pivotal relationships with both mother and daughter. She is an unforgiving woman, soft at times, focussed on herself and yet, she is nevertheless a sympathetic character. In the early days she tries to coax Elise into better mothering by haranguing her – citing her mother’s brain tumour and concomitant mental deterioration as a sign of poor mothering, brought on by daughter Elise’s behaviour and character – which ultimately sounded like a desperate yet futile attempt at motivation….

I felt the relationships between the characters sometimes felt a little lacklustre and flat (sorry!). It’s almost as though the author started out forming the characters with great enthusiasm and insight, got them involved in the plot and then lost a bit of inspiration and moved on to the next scene. In no way a deal breaker, it’s a great piece of fiction and had me absorbed from the get-go. Recommended.

Tina for the TripFiction Team

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