Orion Publishing Group
Pub Date: Jul 2 2015 (US)
This debut novel from Maggie Mitchell is an emotionally intelligent psychological thriller. Told in first person, alternating between its two lead characters, it tells the story of two women, Lois and Carly-May. Lois a professor of literature and aspiring thriller writer and Carly-May is a mostly B-list Hollywood actress. They have not seen one another for many years. What links them is an event in their childhood, when, aged twelve, they survived a kidnapping. In the now, Lois has written a fictionalised account of their story and with a slice of ‘oh no, you’re not really going to do that’ coincidence that would make even Paul Auster blush, a film is being made of it and Carly-May is, of course, offered a part in it.
Meanwhile Lois is working on a sequel to the book, whilst simultaneously trying to deal with a pushy and obsessive student who claims to know her secret and who is willing to blackmail her to get what he wants. This makes for a interesting stalker side story and helps provide an additional creepiness to the tale.
In some ways these plot lines are the least interesting aspect of a book which is more about the emotional impact that the kidnapping had on both girls and the subsequent trauma. But this is not a story about abuse and fear, and that is what makes it all the more interesting. This is not your usual kidnapping survival tale. Both girls – who lived in different States and did not know one another – are ‘chosen’ by their abductor, who comes to be known as Zed. Both get into his car willingly and neither screams or tries to escape as they are driven across the country to an isolated cottage. The girls seem complicit in the crime. They immediately feel safe. He doesn’t lay a finger on them. He wants them to be happy.
This is a story of memory, trauma, identity (both have taken on new names), and indeed, love. The grown up women share a bond but have at the same time never really tried to re-connect. There is a fear there. I think Mitchell does a very good job of identifying this fear and having her characters vocalise and display the emotional complexity of experiencing a serious trauma. It is rarely a black and white thing. Yes, there is a clear Stockholm syndrome aspect to the girls experience, but there is also a sense in both lead characters that these two months are when they both felt most alive. That time and Zed have a big hold over not only who they were but also over who they have become. They are still, many years later, looking for Zed.
The thriller aspect of the book works less well, due to being slightly more predictable and formulaic on that front. It does, however, build the tension nicely as we edge closer towards the end of the story. But, it is the emotional ambiguities laid bare, where this book really succeeds. A promising debut.
Review copy provided by Orion / Netgalley