"Things we have in Common" Tasha Kavanagh
I was recommended this book by author Cass Green ("The Woman Next Door") although after borrowing from my local library, I realised I had downloaded it on my kindle a long time ago following other recommendations on Twitter. Either way, I'm glad I got around to finally reading it. It's quite unlike any of the other thrillers on my shelf at the moment but oh so very compelling!
The first time I saw you, you were standing at the far end of the playing field. You were looking down at your brown straggly dog, your mouth going slack as your eyes clocked her. Alice Taylor.
I was no different. I’d catch myself gazing at the back of her head in class, at her thick fair hair swaying between her shoulder blades.
If you’d glanced just once across the field, you’d have seen me standing in the middle on my own looking straight at you, and you’d have gone back through the trees to the path quick, tugging your dog after you. You’d have known you’d given yourself away, even if only to me.
But you didn’t. You only had eyes for Alice.
Yasmin would give anything to have a friend… And do anything to keep them.
Kavanagh does several things that I adore in psychological thrillers. Firstly she has created an original narrative voice, secondly our narrator is totally unreliable, and finally the narrator refers to the suspect as "you" the entire way through the novel which is highly effective in creating an atmosphere of menace - with both the narrator and the suspect.
Yasmin is 15, her father has died; her and her mother now live with her mother's new partner, Gary Thorton - or "Gary Thorn-in-my-bum" - who "wasn't there", so can't fully understand the trauma the mother and daughter have survived. He regularly frustrates both women with his constant reprisal towards Yasmin to confront her worryingly obese figure. Yasmin is a loner. She is a social outcast at school, teased, bullied, ignored with a desperately low self esteem as she repeatedly refers to herself as fat and freakish.
Yasmin's voice is very authentic. Her flippancy, jealousy, moodiness, spite and then conversely, obsession, love, naivety all remind us that she is a teenager - one that is still grieving and whose mother seems relatively ineffective in any significant guidance or support. However, what I really liked is that I was never entirely sure how I felt towards her. Pity? Sympathy? Fear? Horror? Is this a girl who simply gets caught up in her own imaginings or is there something more malicious and underhand at play? Is Kavanagh showing how events can spiral out of control from one or two words shouted in the heat of the moment or has she indeed created a more psychopathic creature?
I can't forget about Yasmin. She has made a deep impression on me. There was something very bleak in her story. Her obsession over Alice is perhaps not abnormal as far as teenage crushes go - particularly for a child who longs to be recognised and accepted. But what is unsettling is the level of delusion and how confused she sometimes become between what is real and what is imagined. Some of the passages were painful to read; either because Yasmin's actions made me cringe or because I wanted to reach out and rescue her. Although Kavanagh skilfully steers us away from becoming too emotionally involved with Yas - she does not want us to feel maternal sympathy towards her. She wants us to be terrified by her thoughts and actions and fear for where things will lead. Yasmin is often very unemotional and unresponsive towards things that she shouldn't be. Her obsessions and ideas are always several stages too far and too worryingly inappropriate. I could not read the pages fast enough I so wanted to see how things would turn out.
Yasmin's voice is punchy. She can be sarcastic. She can be brutal. And then she can swing to the opposite end of the scale and be loving, overly trusting, desperate for assurance and validation. But there is so much displacement and fantasy in her mind, it is sad as well as deeply concerning. It is no surprise that Yasmin compares herself to Snow White and pretends to exist in fairy tales at the beginning of the novel - or how filmic her fantasies are. I was moved by how much all the adults let Yasmin down. There could be some really interesting discussions about responsibility within this book.
"You" is a brilliant character. There is so little real description of this person, who also gives little away through dialogue, we have only what Yasmin tells us to go on which is highly unreliable and also ever changing. Enigmatic and allusive, the mystery around "you" taunts us throughout the whole novel and I was forever changing my opinion and theories.
It's only 260 pages long. Kavanagh writing is simple, fluent, engaging and absorbing. I don't think I can use the words gripping, chilling and thrilling in the conventional sense but as far as reads go, it is a thriller; it will chill you. This is utterly compulsive and very compelling.
I recommend it!
"Things we have in Common" was published by Canongate in 2015.