Tuesday, 15 November 2016
"Glass Houses" Jackie Buxton
Fifty-one-year old Tori Williams' life implodes when she sends a text while driving and allegedly causes the horrific crash in which three people die. Public and press are baying for her blood, but Tori is no wallflower and refuses to buckle under their pressure and be a pariah.
Etta, another driver involved in the fatal accident, saved Tori's life at the scene. She's a hero, so why is her life falling apart? Perhaps by saving Etta using any means, Tori can save herself—and in doing so, protect her own future and the future of those she loves.
This incredibly topical and contemporary morality tale appeals across generations and will find favor with fans of authors such as Liane Moriarty, Marian Keyes, and Kathryn Croft.
I had been wanting to read this novel for a while after having seen the blurb. The use of mobile phones in cars is rapidly becoming (and rightly so) very socially taboo. The advertising campaigns against drivers who do this are becoming more and more harrowing and high profile. It is also a controversial topic; it is highly emotive and it is also incredibly relevant to society at this point in time.
What I liked about Buxton's book was that the person texting in the car was actually a 51 year old woman - a wife and mother - a woman who is responsible, bright and professional. She is not one of the stereotypes that springs to mind with this crime, or who people automatically and judgementally think of- not a reckless teenager, a speeding boy racer. This is one very normal women who makes one decision that has a devastating impact on the rest of her life and the lives of several others as well. I liked that at the beginning it is not immediately clear who caused the accident, or how, and this in itself challenges our preconceptions of what is dangerous driving and who we might immediately suspect if we'd come across the same horrific scene.
What I also liked was that Buxton uses this situation to explore the bigger idea that we've all taken a risk, done the thing we shouldn't have, made a mistake, made the wrong decision - the question is, how do we bring ourselves back from this? How do we atone for this?
I like a book that makes me do a bit of work. I like a book that drip feeds alluring details that hint of a complicated back story and lingering secrets hidden in the back of the characters wardrobes and this novel certainly does this. As we alternate between the narratives of Tori (the driver allegedly causing the accident) and Etta (from one of the other cars in the accident) we learn through Etta's conversations with her best friend Sara that she also has more to hide:
"'Ok.' Sara held up her hands. 'I understand that some secrets do more harm if they're told.'"
Sara has known Etta for a long time and has clearly a much deeper understanding of her character than the reader. This is a really effective way of showing the reader that Etta is a complicated character and not necessarily reliable as a narrator. Etta's obsessive and destructive behaviour generates tension, suspense, action and concern as well as making the reader want to read on and find answers to all their questions. The tension between Sara and Etta is a really effective plot device and increases throughout the novel until eventually Sara calls time on Etta's increasingly worrying behaviour.
"Stop it Etta," she said, "No more excuses. I can't be part of this."
This book is a difficult read too. The subject matter is harrowing, heart wrenching, controversial and tests our sympathy and empathy for each character at varying different stages in the story. There are also some very poignant observations within the dialogue between characters.
"Moments in our past can haunt us in these circumstances can't they?"
"When your child dies, you die."
This is a very contemporary novel and Buxton has incorporated the role of Twitter and social media very naturally within this story. The use of hashtags and viral threads increases the tension and drama as well as illustrating how far the ripples from this one moment spread and just how life changing the whole event becomes as #ToritheTextingKiller has to come to terms with everything that has happened. I loved this description of Tori at the press conference:
"More questions pinged at her like bees escaping a hive; so many stings they were indistinguishable from each other."
Tori's performance at the press conference was very moving. She is a woman who wants to atone for what has happened, that is prepared to almost jeopardise everything her husband and lawyer have worked to protect, so deep is her guilt, grief and empathy. The scene is completely compelling and I swung between feeling Tori's pain and admiring her brave, heartfelt responses to the lawyer's cringing impatience to just get her away from the press and out of the back door. It will surely be a scene that divides opinions amongst readers and discussions in book groups.
There are frequent references to broken glass throughout the whole novel; the pane in the green house, glass shattered on the floor, glass shattered at the scene of the crash, knocked glasses from the table.... Sometimes subtle, sometimes more conspicuous, Buxton is clearly using glass metaphorically to illustrate the fragility of life as well as the saying "People in Glass Houses...." which touches on the ideas of judgement, blame and prejudice in the story.
There are some wise words spoken by the characters. There is a lot to think about. But this novel does not preach to the readers, it is not trying to teach us a moral code. Ultimately it is a good story of two women who have to live with the mistakes and decisions they have made, and how they try to move forward with this.
"Nobody walks across this earth unblemished," she said. "It's how we deal with our mistakes which makes us who we are."
One of the reviewers on Goodreads refers to this book as a "moral maze" and I think that actually summarises the novel very well. I would recommend this book. It's not an easy read, it's not really a happy read but it is an important one. Buxton can clearly handle a complicated topic and can develop realistic characters. This novel would be a great choice for fans of Liane Moriarty, Kathryn Croft and Jodi Picioult.
"Glass Houses" was published on 1st October 2016 by Urban Publications.
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