Lily Gullick lives with her husband Aiden in a new-build flat opposite an estate which has been marked for demolition. A keen birdwatcher, she can’t help spying on her neighbours.
Until one day Lily sees something suspicious through her binoculars and soon her elderly neighbour Jean is found dead. Lily, intrigued by the social divide in her local area as it becomes increasingly gentrified, knows that she has to act. But her interference is not going unnoticed, and as she starts to get close to the truth, her own life comes under threat.
Now I have to admit, I nearly didn’t bother with this book. I saw it in my local supermarket with the usual ‘If you loved The Girl on the Train, you’re gonna love this’ type sticker and I just thought it was another pulp fiction, disposable story where you read it quickly and forget it instantly.
Why do they put those stickers on anyway? If I hated The Girl on the Train, I wouldn’t touch this book and if I loved it…well, I would still assume I was going to hate it because books like another book are never as good as the book they claim to be emulating, are they?
Lily and I share a love of peeping on the neighbours though, I love a good curtain twitch if I can hear something happening in the street outside my house, so it’s lucky I don’t have binoculars. I think there may be a quiet chat from the police looming on the horizon if I decide to add a pair to my Amazon Wishlist. See? This book has already taught me something.
The narrative can be a little hard to follow at times because it seems to come out as a stream of consciousness, this is not a time to put the book down for an hour or two and then resume. You need your full focus on this one Goddammit!
I found myself identifying with Lily at the outset, sometimes it can be a worry when a male author uses first person narrative for a female character. Are they going to step down the hackneyed stereotypes of womanhood? Is the character going to be overly fixated on man pleasing or her heaving breasts?
“You write good women”
“I think I just write people. Hopefully.”
Ross though doesn’t fall for this trap and instead makes Lily a person. A spiky, introverted, funny, compassionate person. But one that (at this point at least) is starting to make increasingly irrational choices.
She seems oddly disconnected from her life and it feels like she’s just going through the motions rather than actively living.
I’ll describe my reading journey whilst making awkward references to physics, that’s going to make the whole experience far more relatable, right?
Initially reading this book I was easily distracted and when I had a moment I was reaching for my phone rather than the book. However, as time passed it started to get its grips into me and more and more I began to neglect the children and the cleaning in favour of finding out what Lily was doing (they’re half-feral, it’s fine).
Back to my appalling analogy, we’re going to use this wonderful equation:
So, for the purposes of this review, momentum (p) is my neglect of other duties, mass (m) is the story arc and velocity (v) is the level of suspense shown by my inability to put the bloody thing down and go to bed last night.
It’s interesting to follow the journey with Lily, she observes humanity acutely yet as an outsider, she misses so much. A fertile imagination plugs the gaps but it means the reader is left questioning how much is real and how much has been distorted in Lily’s head. The disconnect with her life and those around her was well written and there is a dream-like feel that carries you through the story until, at the very end Lily finally wakes up and takes control.
There were twists aplenty that, whilst foreseeable, were exciting nonetheless. This was written by a British stage and screen actor and this comes through in the book, it almost feels as though it was written for the screen with the climax in particular stretching toward the implausible.
Overall though it has to be said that this was an enjoyable suspense novel and I will watch out for Armstrong’s next book. I’ll just make sure to pencil in some childcare before starting it.
Oh, and I was shit at physics in school, but you already knew that, didn’t you?