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This book is like an opium poppy, lulling you into a soporific state where normality distorts in a terrifyingly plausible – yet grotesque – manner, leading you to believe that beneath the calm, predictable facade of neighbours, friends and family, lurk monsters. When middle-aged wife and mother Sonia is visited at home by fifteen year old Jez, she instinctively decides to drug him, and imprison him in her home. As the consequences of her actions start to escalate and her responses become increasingly extreme, she narrates her tale with a real sense of both grief and ordinariness, which only serves to heighten the disturbing sense that in some way her actions are completely rational, if not exactly normal. She is unsympathetic, yet intriguing; like Annie in Misery, her obsession is seemingly mundane and suburban, but unlike Stephen King’s anti-heroine, Sonia’s story is not depicted in terms of psychotic horror but of intense sadness and disconnection. Trapped in an unsatisfying marriage and haunted by the memory of a childhood love, Sonia simply does not think that what she is doing is wrong. In counter-balance is the narrative of Helen, Jez’s alcoholic aunt, who is tormenting herself with guilt over his disappearance. Both women draw you in to a story that is terrifying in its simplicity and immediacy; that unfurls like an intimate conversation with a trusted friend, who then betrays you and turns your world upside down in the shocking finale. Haunting, and beautifully told, this is an exceptional first novel; I loved it. *****

Simon & Schuster, 2012, ISBN 9780857206282

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