In Nicky Shearsby’s new psychological thriller Green Monsters first-person narrator Stacey Adams makes no secret of her hatred for her married older sister, Emma. Emma is a successful businesswoman, lives in a huge house with dishy husband Jason and a toddler daughter, has a designer wardrobe, yada-yada-yada. Perfect, in other words. Emma’s every remark seems a subtle dig at Stacey’s lack of achievement, her lower status, all the ways she is less. Implications all the more piercing by being true. Stacey lives alone in a cramped apartment and works for a temp agency at a job she cares about not one bit.
In the beginning, you see the two women readying themselves for the launch party for Emma’s new book on healthy eating – another subject that leaves Stacey cold. While Emma primps, Stacey sits on the bed with a waspish expression, unhappy and jealous down to the cellular level. The green monster of the title.
You may think these initial chapters are rather overdone, with virulent criticisms of everything Emma wears, says, does, is. Stacey’s monologues can feel more than a little tiresome. But eventually Shearsby creates a quintessential unreliable narrator. It’s as if Stacey is forced to go over and over and over her complaints so that she can in some way process them. And she does so… disastrously.
The book is set in England and it’s vaguely summertime but this is not a novel about place or atmosphere. All we glean is that we’re in a mid-sized town, Stacey doesn’t have a car and is able to walk many places. However, the town is large enough to have bus service and taxis.
Beyond Stacey’s preoccupation with hating Emma, and of a piece with it, she is deeply attracted to Emma’s husband, Jason. And, again, his every wink, every expression, every move, Stacey tots up as a repudiation of Emma and a sign of his interest in her, the better sister. Shearsby builds up such a mountain of self-delusion, you cannot really climb down from it. The tagline on the front cover gives away a lot of the story development: ‘a husband seduced.’ So you know where this is going.
Eventually, Stacey and Jason do have sex. A lot of it. Stacey has an annoying habit of referring to her breasts as her ‘girls’ and even worse, she refers to her ‘lady parts,’ but that’s who this character is – a mishmash of confused feelings and expressions and motivations. Sex is love, she believes, and love is sex. The physical relationship between her and Jason is the most important aspect of Stacey’s life.
She has no qualms about calling him repeatedly at his law office or about demanding that he confront Emma with ‘the truth,’ which to Stacey is that she will replace her sister. It’s a cringy feeling to see her always on the verge of making an impolitic and devastating announcement. And the next phase of her obsession comes as no surprise.
Stacey is referred to as a narcissistic psychopath. The narcissism is certainly on the money, giving her an exaggerated sense of self-importance, her fantasies of taking over Emma’s lifestyle, lack of empathy, and so on. To be a psychopath, Stacey would have to have certain other characteristics – lack of guilt, dishonesty, risk-taking – which Shearsby makes sure she also displays. This carefully constructed psychological profile will make you wonder whether it’s even possible for Stacey to achieve a more normal life.
It must be exhausting to be her. Green Monsters can be draining for the reader too. It’s uncomfortable living in her head for 300 pages, to see her missteps and misinterpretations, to experience her world. Yet, at times, she’s mesmerising in her wrong-headedness. Shearsby clearly found Stacey a fascinating character and ends the story in manner that paves the way for a sequel, reportedly coming in 2023.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars