I received this book from Kirk Parolles through NetGalley
This was a fascinating and surprising book. The story starts with Emily Coleman walking away from her life in Manchester and travelling to London to start a new life, under a different name. This isn’t an impulsive action; Emily brings her passport and has emptied her bank account to give herself some time to find her feet. She rents a room in a horrid little house in North London. The house may be disgusting but that is also where she finds Angel. And Angel lives up to her name; providing Emily with a new and loyal friend just when she needs one most. Almost despite the odds Emily (who now calls herself Cat) manages to create a new life of sorts. She finds a temporary job and not only survives her first day but also succeeds in making it a permanent appointment and in moving up the ladder through swift promotions. On the other hand, while Emily may think she is now managing her life, she is slowly slipping out of control as well. Angel, although a wonderful friend, has issues of her own and introduces Emily to some dubious habits. While her painful memories are never far from her mind, Emily appears to be surviving, if not flourishing, in her new life until the day she has been dreading is upon her. On this day, the anniversary of some unspecified horrific event, Emily’s life falls apart once again with results nobody, least of all Emily, could have suspected.
This is one of those books where nothing is as it seems. Told mostly from Emily’s point of view – with shorter sections narrated from the point of view of the other characters – the reader gets glimpses of her life before the moment she decided to disappear and get an idea about her troubled childhood. Born as one half of a set of identical twins she was her mother’s favourite from the moment she was born. Her sister, Caroline, was as unexpected as she was unwelcome and seemed to know this right from the start. Where Emily was a pleasant if unremarkable child, Caroline was volatile and always in opposition to Emily and her parents. Emily’s parents aren’t much better; her mother’s inability to love her two daughters equally and her father’s frequent and not very secret affairs did nothing to create a stable home-life for the two girls. Emily’s life takes a turn for the better though when she meets Ben, who appears to be her soul-mate. And when their son is born, life appears to be as perfect as it could possibly be. There doesn’t appear to be a reason for this woman to leave her life behind and disappear without a trace.
And the reason for Emily’s decision, when it is revealed, is as shocking and heartbreaking as it is unexpected. I didn’t see that revelation coming at all and was very impressed with the author’s subterfuge in order to keep it secret.
This is a very emotional story told in an unsentimental fashion. Although we do get a good impression of Emily’s despair and pain she tells her story with the sort of distance you would expect from an outsider. While this makes sense if you consider that Emily was trying to protect herself from her feelings, it did make it harder for me to connect with her.
I’ve seen reviewers compare this book to “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn. I get that comparison as far as the shocking revelation is concerned. But whereas “Gone Girl” was filled with characters I couldn’t like or relate to, this book’s characters, even the disturbed Caroline, all have their redeeming qualities, which made this book easier to read and enjoy for me.
Overall I would describe this as an inspired and original story; a book for those who like to be kept guessing and be surprised by an unexpected revelation in the final pages. Most of all I would call this one of the most impressive debuts I have read in a long time.