Lead Review (plus the author talks about the Lake District as setting)

  • Book: Exquisite
  • Location: Grasmere
  • Author: Sarah Stovell

Review Author: tripfiction



I took this novel to read whilst staying in The Lake District. Sitting high on the Fells, overlooking the vast panorama of richly coloured hills, I would look up from my reading, engrossed as I was, as the story unfolded. I would see walkers. I would imagine the characters transported from the pages straight into the vista in front of me. I would imbibe the scenery and take that visual imagery back to the words on the page An experience that enriched my reading of the novel. AND enriched my experience of being there. That is what TripFiction is all about.

I had recently been to a talk by Paula Hawkins about the way, she stated, that we can all lie. But perhaps it is more about how we interpret our own truth and understanding – how we see ourselves and events. Our understanding of life is governed by our own history and psychological experience. At what point can we, as growing children, assimilate damage, and at what point does damaging experience go into the core of our being and then go on to inform and govern our conscious and unconscious drives? This is the core of Exquisite.

The book opens with the italicised words of a woman detained at Her Majesty’s Prison for Women in Yorkshire. Someone who is adaptive and rational, and biding her time until her release.

And then comes the story of Bo Luxton, luminary and influential author who is teaching a writing course in Northumberland. In Alice Dark she discovers a nascent writing talent, which, she knows, needs nurture; which in fact needs more than nurture, it needs her singular input. She can see the potential for Alice to blossom on so many levels.

A particular bond between the two women unfolds, they have both experienced difficult relationships with their mothers. Abuse and violence, too. In Bo this manifests as a longing to take in waifs and strays, as Gus, her husband, keeps pointing out: “Bo can pick the unmothered out in a crowd“. Alice swings between being an adaptive child and a free child, somehow never managing to really grow up and join her contemporaries who have jobs and families and maybe even children. Thus, they have the perfect unconscious fit, which soon blossoms into a mutual attachment – they interpret their connection as a burgeoning and close friendship which gradually becomes all consuming.

Bo has it all. A beautiful house in the Lake District above Grasmere, 2 daughters, a geriatric cat and a husband, who has a tendency to be on the gruff side, perhaps even somewhat controlling. His distance, when Alice is invited to visit, throws the women further together. Alice, meanwhile back in Brighton, is sharing accommodation with her rather feckless boyfriend, who is loving of her in his own way, but will never be the successful artist which he feels is his destiny. She certainly cannot flourish in this grubby environment.

It is clear that a woman – in all likelihood one of the two female characters – is in prison. But which woman is it? Whoever it is, is someone who has enough psychcological trauma to trigger sociopathic tendencies.

I liked the writing style, and the author skillfully handles the perspectives of the two women – actually a construct that requires careful management to ensure clarity for the reader. The Lake District is the perfect bucolic setting for human machinations. Well-rounded and excellently written. (Do by the way take a good look at the cover, a very subtle interpretation which works so well).

So, what is left other than to say go and buy it!

And on this LINK take a look at Sarah’s inspiration for setting!

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Enter the 2021TripFiction 'Sense of Place' Creative Writing Competition!

A story in which the location plays as important a role as the rest of your words.

2,500 word maximum, 750 word minimum

Judges include Victoria Hislop and Rosanna Ley

First Prize of £1,000 / US$1,350

Prizes total £1,750 / US$2,362 

Winning entry published on TripFiction site and publicised on Social Media

Entries close 6th November 2021