This isn’t a book review, not really. I just want to tell you about a novel I enjoyed a lot.
Besides, I think you’re supposed to be icily impartial when it comes to reviews, and I’m not, not this time. The author, Nancy Woodruff, is a friend of mine. We were in a writers’ group together in London, and I actually critiqued an earlier draft of this book seven or eight years ago. Also, the novel is published by Amy Einhorn, who is also publishing my book. So no, impartial I am not.
Anyway, with all that being duly said and understood – about this novel. I read it in two days. Two busy days, at that. An awful lot of people have observed that this book is nigh impossible to put down once you begin reading, and I can confirm that this is indeed the case. The author pulls you in to the story, and then simply doesn’t let go. The narrative drags you along with quiet but inexorable tension. It’s merciless, and quite brilliant.
The story revolves around an ex-pat American couple living in London, and (I don’t think I can be accused of spoiling anything, given the title) the affair that the wife, Georgie, has with the director of a play in which she is starring. If that all sounds somewhat humdrum, don’t be deceived. This is an all-too-human, and utterly gripping story. Woodruff (I’m trying to look professional here) marshals her characters expertly and creates an almost intolerable sense of inevitability about the disintegration of their marriage. Watching this self-absorbed woman’s fall from matrimonial grace was a little like watching a car crash in slow motion. It’s brutal, but one can’t pull one’s eyes away for a moment.
One of the things that makes the book so memorable is that there is a secondary narrative deftly woven in with this very modern fable, the intriguing true story of Dora Jordan, a famous eighteenth century actress. I knew nothing about Dora Jordan before reading the book and her own tragic story provided a telling counterpoint to Georgie’s own trials. It also served to ramp up the tension deliciously.
And then there’s the ending.
I’ve read some very heated debates online about the merits of the ending. I confess I am still in two minds myself. It is awful, shocking. When I finished the book I put it down, numb, and wandered about for a while, trying to make sense of it. At first I felt angry about it. Over time I slowly came to terms with it. It’s difficult to discuss the ending in any meaningful way without giving away what happens, and I certainly don’t want to do that. But it speaks to the power of the novel as a whole and to Nancy Woodruff’s ability as a writer that she was able to make me care so deeply about her characters.
Nancy is such a wonderful person and novelist. I went to grad school with her, so not impartial either, but I was (quite impartially I think) shocked that the novel didn’t get reviewed more widely.