Written by Claire Kendal — This is one of the most anticipated releases of the year so far, and to trail the release HarperCollins sent out slightly creepy little items to reviewers including a strange black rose. So I was itching to get inside its pages. But be careful what you wish for, because although this debut novel is dark, disturbing and downright claustrophobic, it is also confusing and, at times, disappointing.
Clarissa is a secretary in the administration department of Bath University. She lives alone, loves to sew, and has a terrible taste in men. Shortly after her relationship with a married lecturer ends, Clarissa has a one night stand with another colleague. Big mistake, because Rafe is now stalking her, to the point of obsession. And Clarissa feels like a prisoner in her own life.
Which is why she is delighted when the day to day routine is interrupted by a call to jury service. And she begins to breathe easier as the six-week trial begins at Bristol Crown Court. Another error of judgment, because Rafe is soon following her to and from the court, whispering veiled threats. And then there are the seemingly innocuous gifts – chocolates, macabre black roses, a handmade book of fairytales, even a diamond ring – which Clarissa stores away safely as evidence of his escalating stalking activities.
This is a dark book in every sense. The subject matter is disturbing, and much of the action takes place in the shorter winter days, where an increasingly unhinged Clarissa finds herself looking over her shoulder at every end and turn. And that is where one of my problems with this book lies. Why doesn’t she seek help sooner? This is an intelligent, articulate woman with devoted parents – surely she could have stopped Rafe in his tracks before things really got out of hand?
Quibble number two is with Clarissa’s growing attraction for a fellow juror. They are sitting on a difficult case, at a time when Rafe is becoming increasingly threatening. Would a such a full-on romance really be likely at such a time? And the hunky fireman with dazzling blue eyes is a tired cliché more usually found in romantic fiction.
I found it really hard to engage with this psychological thriller, and my usually speedy reading skills seemed to desert me. In retrospect, I think it was because the book’s structure is more than a little confusing. There are two distinct narrative strands: Clarissa’s diary of Rafe’s obsessive behaviour (the ‘book of you’), and the third person account of the trial and Clarissa’s growing attraction to Robert. The diary part jumps back and forth, making it very hard to keep tabs on the timeline, while the story has a habit of following one thread, then skipping ahead without warning. For example, Clarissa can be in the jury room one minute, then, without warning, she is shopping in the market.
After all the build-up, I found the ending somewhat rushed and rather predictable. In short, an interesting and original debut that could have been so much better.
CFL Rating: 2 Stars