This is the second psychological thriller I’ve read by this author (read my review of Mother here) and she is fast becoming one of my favourite writers in this genre. Inspired by the #MeToo movement, for me, this story brings to mind writer Neil Gaiman’s quote – “I like stories where women save themselves” – which is just what this story does.
However, at what price?
We begin in Rome where newlyweds Samantha and Peter are on their honeymoon. They are queuing to visit a famous stone carving of a man’s face called Bocca della Verita (The Mouth of Truth) where, according to legend, if you place your hand in the mouth and tell a lie, the stone jaw will clamp down and bite if off. Samantha is intrigued. “The gargoyle is disconcerting, she admits. But the urge to put her hand inside the mouth is almost overwhelming. At the same time, she imagines the mythical severance, the bloody stump of her own wrist, the horror on the faces of the crowd as she staggers, bleeding, onto the street.” Peter, on the other hand, seems harassed, reluctant to be there.
We are then taken back in time and introduced to Samantha Frayn, a university student from Yorkshire studying in London, where she meets the rather handsome Peter Bridges. Peter, who is much older than Samantha, is an accomplished, charismatic history lecturer. “He is slim. He dresses well—how she imagines an American academic might dress: soft blues, fawns, tan brogues.” He spots Samantha at a university social event and begins chatting to her, offers to take her for a drink. Samantha, both young and impressionable, is completely swept away by his charm and sophistication. She is flattered that a man such as he, a man with a wine cellar, who whistles classical music, drives a sports car and lives in a beautiful house on a hill, would single someone like her, a nobody, out. Their ensuing romance is immediate, thrilling and intense. Quite unlike anything Samantha has experienced before, especially with boys her own age, and before she knows it, she has moved in with Peter.
Later, when she looks back, Samantha will wonder at what point the subterfuge began.
As in her previous novels, the author’s prose, which is succinct yet brilliantly informative and descriptive, completely draws you in, making The Women an enthralling psychological thriller that is perfectly paced with just enough tension to keep you turning the page to the very end.