The Drowning Woman by Robyn Harding

3 Mins read

Canadian author Robyn Harding is known for her fast-paced domestic thrillers that focus on interpersonal relationships. The Drowning Woman explores the lives of two women who seem very different but who strike up a surprising friendship. It will get you thinking about how far you would go to help a friend, with themes of forgiveness, betrayal, redemption and friendship flowing through the book.

The Drowning Woman is set in Seattle, Washington. The inhabitants of this popular city located in the Pacific Northwest region of America fall into a broad range of income levels. It is home to many giant technology companies whose executives live in huge mansions very few people would be able to afford. It is also a place of widespread homelessness, with people drawn to the city hoping to escape the harsh winters.

Lee Gulliver is unhoused. She never expected that she would end up living out of her car, but her life changed dramatically after her restaurant went out of business. Her debts grew and her options lessened in equal proportion. She has adapted to her circumstances and found a job in a diner that pays her cash. Lee is aware of how vulnerable she is sleeping in her car but has taken steps to protect herself. She sleeps with the keys in her ignition in case she needs to make a fast escape and keeps a knife handy if needed.

One night Lee is woken up by two addicts looking for something of value to steal. Her reflexes are not fast enough, and they manage to smash the passenger window of the car and grab her purse. For anyone living in a car, a broken window is critical and to Lee so are the contents of her purse. Lee knows that she must get the window replaced as soon as she can afford it. When you are being paid under the table, cash advances are not a perk of the job. Lee decides to move her car to a more upscale neighbourhood, thinking it will be safer. She plans to park there at night until she can save enough money to get the window fixed.

Lee’s new parking spot is next to a beach surrounded by huge mansions. It is here that she first encounters Hazel. Early one morning, Lee wakes up to the sounds of a woman crying on the beach, followed by splashing. She sees a woman standing in the frigid water, who then starts swimming away from the beach, but appears to be struggling. Lee jumps in and pulls the woman to the surface. But Hazel is furious – she can longer stand being with her sadistic husband and wants to die. Hazel may live in an enormous oceanside house, but it feels like a prison to her.

The women connect again a few days later. Hazel brings Lee some breakfast as an apology for the way that she reacted when Lee saved her life. A friendship begins to form. Neither woman has close friends and they both feel isolated in their dramatically different worlds. The suspense in the book ramps up when Hazel asks Lee for assistance in getting away from her abusive husband Benjamin, a high-priced lawyer. This will be a major challenge as Benjamin monitors Hazel’s every move. The only freedom he allows her is morning runs on the beach and a few visits to the gym or yoga each week. Benjamin has even installed cameras throughout their home so he can check on what she is doing at any given time.

One of the enjoyable elements of The Drowning Woman is the creation of these two complex characters. On the surface, their lives seem very different yet both women have struggled financially and sought an easy way of obtaining their dreams. Chasing their dreams has come with a heavy price tag. In particular, the descriptions around Lee’s living situation are very realistic, adding depth to her character and texture to the story. Benjamin’s need to control and isolate Hazel is also common in abusive relationships. After the women meet, they both begin to get a sense of hope. Hazel hopes to walk away from her relationship and Lee hopes for the possibility of a relationship with Jesse, a man that she just met.

You will be so invested in these characters that, as the plot moves forward, you will enjoy seeing these women in different situations and from different perspectives. The shifting power dynamic between the characters is riveting and demonstrates deft plotting from Robyn Harding. Some sections of the book are from Lee’s point of view, while others are from Hazel’s. This book is a real pager turner. Sit back and enjoy the wild ride that Hazel and Lee will take you on. The exciting twists and turns will keep you reading, late into the night.

Grand Central Publishing

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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