"The Sudden Departure of the Frasers" Louise Candlish
When Christy and Joe Davenport move into number 40 Lime Park Road - their perfect, dream, forever family home in a perfect, dream street -they are delighted to have managed to stretch their budget to buy something they never thought they could own. But why was the house on a such a low price? Why did the previous owners spend a year renovating then move out so suddenly? And without a trace? Why won't any of the neighbours speak to Christy and why will no one tell her the truth about Amber Fraser, the previous owner -a mythological sexy, beautiful, perfect hostess and neighbour. Christy finds herself becoming obsessed with finding out what happened and revealing the dark secret that tore the street apart......
At around 500 pages long this is a book that requires a bit more of an investment than Candlish's recent bestseller "The Swimming Pool". Candlish takes time to develop the characters in detail, establishing the setting of Lime Park Road carefully and introducing the characters fully so that actually it is less of a "thriller" and more of a character led story. I did find it a bit slow to start with but persisted as I knew Candlish would deliver - and deliver she does!
Told in alternating chapters between Christy and Amber we are taken backwards and forwards through the events leading up to the Fraser's sudden departure. Amber's narrative is told in first person and Christy's sections are told in third person, although interestingly Christy is definitely the easier character to relate to. I suspect Candlish enjoyed writing Amber's character more as she is quite unlikeable, deliciously arrogant and manipulative. She is caustic in her comments about her so called friends and neighbours:
"She had the most hectic haircut I had ever seen- it was as if it had been scribbled on her head by Quentin Blake - and make up so poorly applied I wondered if she'd handed crayons to her sons and given them free reign."
There is a guilty pleasure in waiting to see what might happen to this dishonest, self satisfying woman! As Amber tells her story retrospectively, she peppers her narrative with clues that things will end in disaster and this creates intrigue.
"It was all so effortless, so natural. You'd think I'd been born to betray."
"And where was I in this catastrophized tableau? Hiding in the wardrobe or under the bed, my clothes clutched to my naked body, a high heeled shoe left behind, just visible from the door?"
I also liked the perspective the neighbours threw on Amber's character. Caroline looked at a photo as if "she longed for the glory days, for that golden age when Queen Amber presided. Like a deposed aristocrat dreaming of the last days of Versailles."
There is a level of suspense sustained throughout the novel but this is really a slow burner of a book. Both characters have significant back stories and through the two different women Candlish is able to explore different kinds of ideas about marriage, trust, friendship, hope and obsession. By about a third of the way through the book I had engaged with both narratives and I was enjoying the description, characterisation and plot development. I felt like I was a resident on Lime Park Road and a keen observer on the antics between the neighbours.
For the last third of the book I found myself settling back into the sofa and rubbing my hands with satisfying glee as the twists begin to unfurl and Candlish revealed her skill as a writer who can pull the carpet out from under your feet. I watched with horror as Amber's final actions rip through Lime Park Road, her marriage and her friendships.
This novel is full of astute observations and thoughtful characterisation. It is realistic; not far fetched or requiring any kind of suspension of belief which I really enjoyed and found quite unsettling. There is something very appealing about stories that centre on neighbours and small communities - perhaps because we all live with neighbours and all wonder what goes on behind closed doors? How well do we know anyone living alongside us? How fragile are our relationships within our street?
I suspect the ending may divide readers - those who love to be completely stunned and those who prefer a neat tying up of all the threads. Me, I loved the ending! My jaw literally dropped and I hurriedly flicked back through the pages to re-read chunks, trying to absorb what Candlish is implying with her final words. Clever....... or cruel?!
I enjoyed this book. I'm giving it a 3.5 /5 just because I found it a bit of a slow start. I would recommend this book to people who enjoy a more thorough character led suspenseful novel and for readers of Mark Edwards "The Magpies", Cass Green "The Woman Next Door" and Shari Lapena's "The Couple Next Door".
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"The Sudden Departure of the Frasers" was published in May 2015 by Penguin.