Have any of these things ever happened to you?
- You arrive at a party unsuitably dressed, and find out you were the only person who wasn’t told the dress code.
- You refer to a significant conversation, and the person you’re talking with denies all knowledge, and says that you must be confusing her with somebody else.
- You’re told that something has happened, but you now that the situation isn’t quite what is being presented, that it has been manipulated.
All of these things happened to Cass – these things and other things, subtle things. She knows what is happening, but nobody else can see it. She knows that she isn’t going mad, but she knows that they think she is.
That’s the scenario that Elizabeth Forbes has turned into a wonderful psychological novel. A book that held me from start to finish, that had me changing my mind all of the time, a book that had me wanting to talk back to it. Yes, it’s that good.
It works because Cass is likeable, an everywoman in a very middle class way. I liked her. But she had a lot to cope with. Her relationship with her college-bound daughter was strained, her mother was in a nursing home, in the early stages of dementia; she was working hard to establish herself as a market gardener. And it was gently suggested that she’s had troubles in the past. Cass had frailties.
It began with a newcomer in a small close-knit countryside village causing a stir. Ellie was writer, looking for inspiration for a new novel. She was attractive, bright, convivial and well connected, so, of course she was welcomed into the village’s social circle with open arms. Everyone loved Ellie. But Cass saw Ellie rather differently, noticing things that weren’t quite right, and coming to realize that Ellie was trying to take her place in her circle of friends.
But nobody else sees that, and even Cass’s husband and daughter question her sanity. her world begins to crumble.
I wanted to believe her, but at the same time I couldn’t doubt Ellie. Because her voice alternated with Cass’s, she was utterly, utterly credible, and I could see no reason why she would want to disturb Cass’s life. The contrasting voices were so effective; the same events presented from different perspectives kept me asking questions, and at times had me as bewildered as Cass.
I watched Cass’s friends trying to tactfully support her through what they saw as a crisis, or maybe the start of a breakdown. I saw her husband, who clearly loved her, trying to be supportive but becoming frustrated by the situation. I saw her daughter, caught up with her own life, insensitive to her mother’s situation. All of the characters, all of their relationships, were so very well drawn, and that gave the story a wonderfully firm foundation.
It was all so horribly believable. And it was unsettling, seeing how easily a life could be knocked off course, a mind knocked off balance.
The story built , slowly and steadily, never losing it’s grip, towards a very clever ending. An ending that I really didn’t see coming, but an ending that made perfect sense.
This is a book with the power to make you catch your breath whenever you think of it …