I’m not absolutely sure what all of the hype has been about with this novel. I’d heard so many people raving about this thriller, noticed that it was on the Richard and Judy Bookclub lists and seen it on the supermarket shelves, and it got to the stage where everyone seemed to have read it except for me. Everyone seemed to have enjoyed it.
Which is why I was so confused. This is a book that seems to want to be two very different things… on the one hand, it’s a crime thriller (how can Alison best defend Madeleine after she’s killed her husband?), but on the other it’s trying to be the next text ‘50 Shades’ – even referring to this book at one stage. As a result, it didn’t really do a great job of being either.
Alison is a barrister handling her first murder case. Barrister Alison is capable, intelligent and respected. Her client is miserable, weak and hopeless, and thus a rather obvious contrast between the characters is established. This part of the novel was rather clumsy in parts, with too many details missing for it to really fit into the category of Crime Thriller. It’s rather obvious what the outcome will be, so this part of the story really lacks the element of suspense that I’d be looking for in a ‘real’ crime novel. Barrister Alison is too boring to be an appealing character.
The other side of Alison’s life is that she is a wife and mother. Wife Allison is incompetent, drunken and selfish. But seems to love her husband and child. Or at least when she remembers that they exist. Which is not that often. But then Carl is shown to be so perfect and bland that I’d forgotten about him as well for most of the novel. Wife Allison is too ridiculous to be an appealing character.
Oh, and then there’s the Alison who is having an affair. Slut Alison seems to have plenty of time in her busy day to stop working at two in the afternoon and have sex in her solicitor friend’s flat, or on the train, or in chambers at two in the morning. All of which is described in blunt and unappealing detail in a way that I have only previously ever seen done by male authors writing about sex from a female perspective. Slut Allison is not a very appealing character at all.
The last 25% of the novel was by far the best-written. I really liked Alison’s daughter, Matilda, and when the story begins to focus more on her, it suddenly has a point and some clarity. And really, I think that I would have enjoyed this novel so much more if it wasn’t for the Slut Alison plot, which wasn’t entirely necessary. Sex sells though, and maybe this was what all of the hype was about.