Exquisite – Sarah Stovell
Enter Alice Dark, an aspiring writer who is drifting through life, with a series of dead-end jobs and a freeloading boyfriend.
When they meet at a writers’ retreat, the chemistry is instant, and a sinister relationship develops… Or does it?
Breathlessly pacey, taut and terrifying, Exquisite is a startlingly original and unbalancing psychological thriller that will keep you guessing until the very last page.
My thanks to Karen at Orenda for my review copy and to Anne for the opportunity to join the tour.
Bo is a writer, she will be running a writing class in the Lake District and is scanning submissions from hopeful candidates. One piece stands out from all the others, it is raw it is angry and edgy and it calls to Bo. The author, Alice Dark, receives an invitation to attend the course and she gets her fees paid which makes it possible for her to attend.
For Alice the invitation to travel from the South coast to the Lake District gives her the chance to make a break from the rut which she has found herself in. She is living with an artist, he is 10 years older than Alice and seems content to spend his time slapping out some touristy pictures to keep himself in beer and fags. He will drop everything to find a party and shows no sign of responsibility. Staying with him has been the easy option for Alice but she recognises life is slipping by.
Alice scrapes what she can to get to the course, she is considerably younger than the other attendees but her natural charm and easy going nature ensures she is welcomed by the other attendees (particularly the males). But it soon becomes clear to the reader that Bo and Alice are going to click – even if Alice is slightly slower to realise the extent of Bo’s fascination with her until the course is drawing to an end.
The writing week ends and the two women part, for the present, but narrative of Exquisite switches to a series of email communications between the women. We see their lives continuing and watch pondering what the other may be doing but through their email we read of a developing relationship. Bo is married but when her husband is due to leave on a business trip for a few days she implores Alice to return to the Lake District – uncertain of what the future may hold (and aware Bo is married with young children) Alice makes the trip.
What follows is a love story which then starts to spiral out of control. Bo’s husband is the “jealous type” so she asks Alice to keep their relationship a secret, delete emails and keep a low profile. How each woman will handle the time they spend apart will dictate how the story unfolds, it’s no surprise that the path of “true love” will not run smoothly – but is it even love?
The reader will see both sides of the story. There are power-plays, manipulation, anxiety and many, many tears. Shall we say this is a bit of an emotional rollercoaster?
I am seeing lots of love for Exquisite and I can understand why – it is a troubled love story, brilliantly constructed and the writing is top notch – plus Sarah Stovell has thrown in some nasty twists for her characters. I personally found it swung a little too far towards a love tale but didn’t pull it far enough into back into thriller territory. This means we are falling out of my comfort zone of reading and I find those books harder to consider objectively and comment upon accurately.
As I read I was looking for comparisons and two films sprang to mind (and when I name them you will realise how little I get to see films these days)…Single White Female and The Hand That Rocks The Cradle. Now I loved both those films – strong stories and formidable characters and I consider them good stories to be compared to, I don’t have a comparable book reference.
So Exquisite – loads going for it and it will be loved by many (but I don’t think I am a typical representation of the target audience).
Exquisite is published by Orenda Books and is available from 15 June in paperback and is already available in digital format. You can order a copy here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Exquisite-Sarah-Stovell-ebook/dp/B06Y661QRC/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1497477225&sr=8-1