"The Girls" Lisa Jewell
This story is set in London, where the picturesque houses encircle a communal garden. Everyone knows everyone. The children roam freely, in and out of each other's houses and as familiar with each other as siblings. When Clare moves in with her daughters Grace and Pip, aged eleven and twelve, she thinks she has found a real oasis for them - especially considering the recent traumatic events they have lived through.
But then one night Grace is found unconscious in a dark corner of the garden. What happened? Who did this?
Lisa Jewell is a hugely popular author with a dedicated following and this novel was picked as a Richard & Judy read recently. Lots of people have commented on how she has moved to "the dark side" with this story compared with some of her earlier romantic comedies and I would agree, this book is a more sinister and nods more towards the thriller genre. However, essentially I think it is a novel about human nature, relationships, parenting, jealousy, grief and love. I think what Jewell shows in this book is her interest in characters and their interaction with each other.
I had bought this book months and months ago when it was nominated in the Richard & Judy reads this summer but it was languishing on my TBR pile. On Friday a friend asked me if I'd read it as she'd just done it with her book group and they'd all disagreed over the ending. By Sunday I could resist no more - I had to see what it was in the story that had led to such a discussion!
I'm so glad I bumped it up the TBR pile and read it! It was the perfect tonic for a wintery weekend. It's easy, light and engaging yet with enough tension, twists and revelations to keep you hooked until the end.
There are several threads of mystery and tension running through "The Girls". Clare and her daughters have lived through some very emotionally difficult times and Clare definitely carries a sense of fear and being found. There are plenty of unresolved issues between herself and her husband and these are carefully drip fed to the readers in a way that builds up a steady sense of suspense and curiosity.
Although we begin the story with the discovery of Grace, and therefore know that ultimately the we need to find out how she ended up in this state and who knows what really happened to her, we are steered away from this moment. Jewell introduces us to a wealth of characters and their roles within the close community that is formed around this communal garden. We have to start piecing the story together a little. We have to get to know each of the characters and through getting to know them more, we begin to see their weaknesses, their fallibility, their secrets.
I was intrigued by Tyler, a disturbed teenager, full of jealousy, possessiveness and a little competitive. But, once more of her situation was unveiled, although you may not necessarily sympathise with her completely, it was easier to understand her motivation and reactions to certain situations. She was very strong in my mind and very easy to engage with.
I also though Adele was an interesting character. I wasn't always sure about her culpability towards the end and I liked that she evolved in to a more complex character than I initially credited her to be. She home-schools her children, she is an 'earth mother' sort of parent, she's loving, generous and kind. But still sometimes I felt there was a hint of something a little uncertain in her bubbling away at the back of her mind.
Pip is probably the star of the show and I liked her letters to her absent father. Jewell captures the voice of an eleven year old realistically - often heartbreakingly so. Pip is a switched on, sensible, honest and perceptive child. Maybe older than her years suggest.
The male characters are as well crafted as the female ones. They all invite suspicion and judgement, ensuring that we are lead up and down several garden paths before the final few twists are revealed.
For me, this was a very good weekend read. I pictured it all vividly. I liked the spread of characters who were all colourful, three dimensional and individual. There was lots going on but not too much that you couldn't keep track of the various character's stories. There was suspense and mystery but it was enjoyably engaging rather than chilling. I really like Jewell's style and will definitely be going through her back catalogue of titles for the more recent ones that I have missed.
I think it would make a fantastic TV series. And it seems from what my friend tells me it makes a good book group choice too!
The only thing I'm a little concerned with is the slightly nagging feeling Jewell has left me with about my own house and the way my children play! We also live in a block of terraces that surround a communal garden. In the summer months my children do run a little feral (alright, the feral bit isn't just confined to the summer....) and the garden is full of various children and neighbours. We often seem to acquire extra people for lunch or tea. We frequently forget that our 'discussions' can be heard by an audience of many!
I mean, of course I would never ever curtain twitch or listen to conversations while I'm pottering about outside (!), but the whole thing about who your neighbours really are and living a little on top of people is fascinating. It's that old thing of 'behind closed doors' I guess! I will be looking at everyone a little bit more suspiciously next time we all head out for an impromptu barbecue!
"The Girls" is available in paperback and I bought it on offer in WHSmiths as part of the Richard and Judy Book Club selection. I'm off for a coffee with my friend now to see what exactly it was that her book group disagreed on!
For more recommendations and reviews please follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)