I liked Michelle Frances’ debut novel, The Girlfriend. Her follow-up, The Temp, was published last year and I found it to be similar but not as engaging. Again it’s a psychological thriller about the tensions between two women, with the story told in the third person from alternating perspectives. And again the TV industry is a feature (not a surprise – the author is a script editor and producer). In her first novel, this was all right; one of the main characters is in TV but it doesn’t overwhelm the story. But in her second novel, all three of the main characters work in TV and the level of detail included about this career is, I’m sorry to say, rather dull. After finishing the novel, my overall impression is that getting into television scriptwriting is difficult but rewarding. I will soon forget the actual story, which was not as thrilling as the blurb promised.
There are some good aspects to the novel. It has the page-turning quality (or on my tablet, a page-swiping quality) I expect from this genre. The sense of place is effective and the characters are well-drawn, although it suffers from a lack of ‘good’ male characters (this is common in the genre). I also felt that the story was too long, with the plot stretching to fill the pages. I still wanted to find out what happened in the end, but I was getting impatient and starting to skim-read.
I think this novel was a missed opportunity. It could’ve been more exciting, more diverse in characters and locations. The theme of postnatal depression is lightly touched upon, if not mentioned. Carrie, one of the main characters, falls unexpectedly pregnant in her forties. She and her husband Adrian had never wanted children. After she’s had her baby, Carrie really misses her job and is paranoid that her maternity cover, Emma, is trying to oust her. The isolation of staying at home with a baby is well portrayed, but I feel that the author could have conveyed more of a message about mental health.