This is a disturbing novel about a girl who survived terrible abuse in a ‘house of horrors’ and as an adult is still suffering from the trauma of it. The book is being marketed as a ‘crime thriller’, which is misleading. It doesn’t have the pace, twists and tension that you’d expect from the genre. I would describe it as an exploration of the psychological effects of abuse. It’s been all over my social media feeds, so when I saw it was available on the library e-book catalogue, I decided to try it, thinking it would be a thriller.
The protagonist, Lex, is known as Girl A, one of several siblings who were starved and chained up by their parents, who used Christianity to justify the cruelty. As an adult, Lex is named executor of her mother’s estate, which involves meeting up with the siblings again and ultimately revisiting the house. The narrative alternates between the present day and the past. I found it incredible that there was not a single mention of a health visitor or social worker attempting to visit the family. The events took place seventeen years ago (or thereabouts, as far as I remember from the text); not exactly the dark ages in terms of child welfare policy in Britain. Of course, cases will slip through the net, but surely there would have been some attempt to engage with the family. The story seems less realistic because of this.
Some of the writing was very engaging and powerful. Some of it was confusing, perhaps intending to reflect Lex’s state of mind. I didn’t see why the adult Lex had to be a lawyer, as the details of her job and colleagues are uninteresting and contribute nothing to the story. My attention flagged at a few points in the present day narrative but I was gripped by the flashbacks. The ending was ambiguous, which I thought was fine, but not all readers will be satisfied.
This novel is memorable and skilfully written but I didn’t enjoy it.
First published in 2021.