The TripFiction Book Club July/August ’19 reads ‘A Summer Reunion’ by Fanny Blake
Psychological thriller set in Brighton (the story of a “skilled and multi-faceted wife”)
16th January 2015
The Liar’s Chair by Rebecca Whitney, psychological thriller set in Brighton.
A stark portrayal of a relationship founded on abuse and control. David and Rachel have all the trappings of a happy and wealthy lifestyle – only to those, however, on the outside looking in. The pivotal event happens right early on in the book, when Rachel, still under the influence of alcohol (and several hours after her last drink) runs over a vagrant in the road. And it is from this event that the story unfolds. She is on her way home from spending the first night ever with her lover, Will. She staggers around the road and drags the body to the side, and then drives away. She spots a watch belonging to the man, and takes it with her, and it becomes her talisman, her reminder of her terrible deed, her connection to the man. As she arrives home, she slips to the bathroom to gather her thoughts and to shed the evidence of what has happened.
Pretty soon Rachel does tell David what has happened, and of course this information is an addition to his armoury, a gift to him in the power stakes. He takes the information on board, almost without batting an eyelid which feels surprising despite the context of what is going on between them. But the knowledge lurks and festers.
As the noose of control tightens, Rachel ups her chemical addiction, whether it be alcohol or prescription meds. Little instances push her ever further to the edge – she puts petrol in her tank at the garage, only to discover that her credit cards are missing, a little control “intervention” from David, a nod to the power he can exert even when he is not around. He can humiliate and control her even in his absence.
The vagrant has been living in a derelict caravan, situated on land that David, as it happens, is involved in developing. Rachel discovers the vagrant’s abode and removes an age old picture of his daughter which she keeps with her. And it is almost as if the adult Rachel is driven to find a way to make something right for one young girl. Rachel herself experienced an abusive childhood and nobody made things ok for her, so this is one thing she perhaps can rectify – if not for herself, then for someone else.
There are many strands to this story, and the driver for the reader is to see what outcome the author chooses for the ending. It is a very readable novel, yes, I think one can call it a thriller. Many readers will undoubtedly find annoyance with Rachel’s acquiescent character, but that is the nature of an abusive relationship for the underdog: the sense of perspective becomes fogged, and the less powerful person stays… and stays… and stays, even though it is hugely detrimental to them as an individual (research shows that on average it takes at least 30 attempts for a ‘victim’ of an abusive relationship to leave). The complexities of power and abuse are well delineated. And yet…. It sometimes felt like I was observing their relationship through the fish eye lens of a washing machine (and there is indeed a scene set in a laundry) where the clothes tumble back and forth prior to a spin. The characters acrobat their way through the book, they fade into focus, they fade out. As Rachel slides down the pole of diminishing self esteem, she randomly encounters a ‘dogging’ group (look it up if you are unfamiliar with what this involves). Indeed, things get pretty down and out for her – the author deftly describes her demise. However, lewd encounters add very little, they feel gratuitous and serve to underline how far Rachel has fallen – but that is clear anyway. The author needs to trust that she can convey the harrowing situation without resorting to these episodes that detract rather than add.
The writing is pretty evocative, it is as satisfying as rolling a toffee round one’s mouth. But creative writing courses can labour the point of floral writing – it encourages writers to be evocative in creative ways which easily flip over into a fug of overwhelming flavours. Sometimes the style is a little too florid – and this is something that author Charles Lambert picked up in his guest blog on Hannah Kent’s novel Burial Rites, where he talks about “the attention-seeking language of similitude”…
Do go out and buy this book (you can buy it via this link) – you will witness at first hand a relationship where domestic abuse prevails, where strands do come together. And the ending? Tell us in the Comments below what you think….
Brighton is the setting for this story, but in terms of TripFiction it isn’t a major player.
This is a debut novel and Rebecca Whitney is definitely an author to watch.
Tina for the TripFiction Team
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