Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Book Review: THE GIRLS by Lisa Jewell

The Girls

 The Girls (The Girls in the Garden)
Author: Lisa Jewell
Read: June 2016

Synopsis (Goodreads):

Dark secrets, a devastating mystery and the games people play: the gripping new novel from the bestselling author of The House We Grew Up In and The Third Wife.

You live on a picturesque communal garden square, an oasis in urban London where your children run free, in and out of other people’s houses.

You’ve known your neighbours for years and you trust them. Implicitly.

You think your children are safe.

But are they really?

Midsummer night: a thirteen-year-old girl is found unconscious in a dark corner of the garden square. What really happened to her? And who is responsible?

Utterly believable characters, a gripping story and a dark secret buried at its core: this is Lisa Jewell at her heart-stopping best.

My thoughts:

I really loved Lisa Jewell’s The House We Grew Up In, so jumped at the opportunity to listen to the audiobook version of The Girls (also published under the title The Girls in the Garden).

All events in the book take place in one of London’s communal gardens (not having seen one I googled the term and found some amazing pictures very similar to those conjured up by Jewell’s vivid descriptions) – a green oasis in the concrete jungle where parents can let their children roam free, where neighbours meet neighbours, where people can relax in quiet green corners surrounded only by the sounds of nature. Adele’s three daughters have grown up in the garden and it has always formed a large part of their childhood. Being home schooled, the garden is more than an area to play and relax, it is also the place to meet up with their peers, form friendships, have clandestine meetings to whisper secrets and hang out with friends in the manner of ordinary teenage girls. Even Adele admits that the garden is very important to her, giving her time out from her ever present family as she bundles them into their outdoor clothes and sends them out to play, happy in the knowledge that they are safe out there whilst she snatches a few quiet moments for herself. But are they really? When Grace and Pip move into the neighbourhood, the subtle shift of loyalties and change in the pecking order is enough to throw the garden into chaos, culminating in the terrible event of one of the girls being found bloodied and unconscious  in the rose garden one night, in the very spot where years ago another girl had died. Is history repeating itself? With the safety of the garden breached, neighbours are suddenly suspicious of their neighbours, spouses of their spouses. But perhaps it is the children they should really be afraid of?

I love the way Jewell characterises her protagonists  and allows the reader to get into their heads, keeping just enough back to create a constant atmosphere of suspense and tension which sets the tone of the novel. Just as the characters begin to doubt their loved ones, the reader is constantly being challenged to question the actions and motives of all the players. Who can you really trust? I especially loved Jewell’s portrayal of unconventional mother Adele, whose secure and peaceful world is shattered by the events unfolding in the garden as she is forced to question the ideals that have underpinned her actions and choices her entire life. Jewell brilliantly executes the slow unraveling of this strong and determined woman, and I really felt for her. With skillful descriptive writing, an eye for detail and brilliant characterisations of all her protagonists, Jewell brought this garden and its people to life for me and I could see them vividly in my head.

All in all, a thoroughly engrossing psychological thriller cum family drama, exploring the dynamics of different families and interpersonal relationships in the face of a crisis. Well written and highly recommended. I look forward to reading the next book by this talented author.

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