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Reflective novel with a kick set in USA

17th August 2023

The Whispers by Ashley Audrain, reflective novel with a kick set in USA.

A Grazia Book Club Pick July 2023

Reflective novel with a kick set in USA

This is Harlow Street, where a disparate group of people lives, and this is the story of how their lives intertwine. The novel opens in the Loverly’s back yard, where there is a get together of neighbours. Whitney – aka Mrs Loverly – is heard screaming and berating her 10 year old son Xavier, and naturally this puts a dampener on the party. It is something that comes back to haunt the community when Xavi is rushed to hospital, unconscious, having fallen from his room’s window, which is high up in their house. Did he jump or did he simply fall?

Whitney’s best friend Blair lives nearby and then there is Rebecca, who also lives nearby and who is the A&E specialist, and who happens to be in attendance when the boy arrives into hospital.

The binding feature is the women’s struggle around motherhood, as each character grapples with issues unique to herself.

And finally Mara, who is originally from Portugal, who arrived with her husband. She lost her son in very difficult circumstances. Mara watches the comings and goings of the community, Blair has a key to Whitney’s house and is a keen snooper, and Rebecca is desperate to conceive a child, having had several miscarriages. The husbands waft around this disparate group of individual women. There are suspicions of adultery but by whom and with whom is a thread that winds its way through the narrative. There is a pivotal key that clearly belongs to one man on the Lane, but is found in the possession of a woman who isn’t his wife, and this mystery sidles along whilst the main action is played out at Xavi’s bedside. He, like Mara’s son, is portrayed as a troubled child, and his stoic friendship with Blair’s daughter has been sorely tested.

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The novel is written in the present tense, which lends immediacy to the unfolding events. Without this device, it would probably feel like a slightly 2-dimensional narrative. There is almost a sense that the author is trying to convey the texture and subliminal feelings and responses of these women by metaphorically running her fingers across the fabric of their lives, testing, assimilating, listening to the resonance of their innermost thoughts. The story is, at times, such a featherlight, whispered rendering that I struggled to engage with the characters and feel really involved in their stories. The writing, as you would expect from the author of The Push is excellent and objectively I wanted to keep on picking up the book but subjectively I would find other things to do instead. It just didn’t grip me and I didn’t particularly warm to any of the characters, there was just something that eluded me.

To my mind, this is more a domestic drama than a thriller, which is the genre in which the book is pitched.

Setting is vaguely somewhere in America, with its picket fences and mention of Houston and a 7 hour plane ride to Lisbon, but in TripFiction terms sense of place is not a feature.

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