Emily Bestler Books/Atria, June 2013
Kate Parker is trying to recover from a series of traumas, and feels she’s not doing a very good job of it. A number of years previously, her parents were killed in a car accident while travelling to her wedding reception, and then more recently, Kate’s husband Hugo was brutally murdered. In an effort to cope, Kate has relocated from London, England to Oxford, in order to be nearer to her in-laws so they can assist with caring for her ten-year-old son, Jack. The family dynamics are difficult, however, and Kate is becoming less and less sure that this was a good idea, as Hugo’s parents and sister constantly seem to question her decisions and her parenting skills. As if all of that wasn’t enough, Kate’s semi-detached house has been broken into more than once, and various valuables have been stolen, leaving her even more insecure and panicky.
Not surprisingly, Kate is struggling to maintain any sense of normalcy and safety. She has become obsessive-compulsive, unable to tear herself away from studying all sorts of statistics, in an attempt to regain the feeling that she is in control. The result is that she is nearly paralyzed with fear from the mountains of information about accidents and deaths that she can’t tear herself away from. Kate can barely leave her house, take public transit, enter a store, or ride her bike. Even worse, she has become so overprotective of young Jack that their relationship is close to the breaking point.
When Kate meets a visiting professor, Jago, who has written a book on statistics and is interested in the field of OCD, she gets the first glimmer of hope she’s had in a long time. Jago offers to assist her by carrying out various experiments designed to challenge her into stepping outside the rigid boundaries she’s created for herself. The fact that Kate finds Jago physically attractive helps her decide to accept his assistance. Although Jago makes her nervous, Kate finds it more and more pleasurable to be around him.
Unfortunately, this was when the book stopped working for me, and I became unable to really believe in the way events were unfolding. Although the level of tragedy Kate had experienced caused me to feel very sorry for her, I couldn’t believe that she would go along with Jago’s odd suggestions, or that a professor would be carrying out such unethical experiments.
While Millar is skilled at creating a tense and ambiguous atmosphere, the novel veered into areas that began to seem unbelievable to me, particularly as Kate was described as being a competent, intelligent woman who had helped her husband build a highly successful renovation business. I thought Millar did a good job in her descriptions of the way Kate was experiencing the aftermath of trauma, but ultimately couldn’t go along with the plot that explained how Kate began to find her way back to health. Readers who particularly like taut psychological suspense might enjoy this book more than I did, however, as Millar consistently evokes a very paranoid, unsettling sensation. If you are reading to get creeped out, this book should do it for you – but if you are reading for authentic characters and plot, it probably won’t.
Reviewed by Andrea Thompson, February 2016.