Verdict: Stressful, blood boiling, very very good but also frustrating.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing (UK & NZ), July 12th, 2018
It is the 1970s and Ralph, an up-and-coming composer, is visiting Edmund Greenslay at his riverside home in Putney to discuss a collaboration. Through the house’s colourful rooms and unruly garden flits nine-year-old Daphne – dark, teasing, slippery as mercury, more sprite than boy or girl. From the moment their worlds collide, Ralph is consumed by an obsession to make Daphne his.
But Ralph is twenty-five and Daphne is only a child, and even in the bohemian abandon of 1970s London their fast-burgeoning relationship must be kept a secret. It is not until years later that Daphne is forced to confront
the truth of her own childhood – and an act of violence that has lain hidden for decades.
This book made me mad, it made me anxious, it stressed me out with no end – and I could not stop reading it (I mean, except for frequent breaks to calm down). My Kindle died halfway through this book and I finished it on my laptop, which should give you an indication of how much I needed to get to the end.
This is story of Ralph and Daphne’s developing ‘relationship’, only that Ralph is 25 and Daphne is nine when they meet. Told in flashbacks from three different perspectives, Ralph’s, Daphne’s, and her best friend Jane’s, this story spans nearly 40 years. The book is unflinching it its portrayal; the characters are fully formed and human, which makes reading it all the more gruelling (for me at least). Ralph is despicable, but (of course) doesn’t see himself that way and reading about his justifications for his actions made me sick to my stomach. His characterisation is extremely well done and shows the brilliance of this book. Daphne is equally compelling and you feel sorry for her while wanting to shake her. I personally would have loved to spend more time with her because I found her inner workings the most fascinating. Jane’s perspective did not always quite work for me but I can see how it was needed to give a bit of an outside perspective on the immorality of the ‘relationship’.
Overall, the characters are what makes this book shine but there were other strengths as well. I admire Sofka Zinovieff’s willingness to tell this story and found it provoking but needed. This novel deals with memory and its unreliability in a truly excellent way. She also deftly handles other topics such as mental health, classism, and female friendship. The framing of this story was very successful to me as somebody who loves stories jumping between different time periods in somebody’s life.
I did feel the need to take a shower after this book, because even though the sex is never gratuitously described, spending this much time in a creep’s head made my skin crawl. I am also not the biggest fan of some of the narrative decisions towards the end and thus was glad to have finished it. I am also very glad to have read it though.
I received an arc of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Bloomsbury Publishing in exchange for an honest review.