“You want to believe your husband. She wants to destroy him”
And with these words on the front cover of this suspenseful psychological drama, we are led into a world of marriage and affairs and honesty and memories. Of crime and secrets. Of shame and retribution.
Sophie and James met at Oxford, both products of a privileged upbringing, accepting Oxford as part of their birthright.
In stark contrast with the blonde, athletic, upper-crust Sophie. is her tutorial partner, Holly – a northerner, from a working class background, awed, overawed, overwhelmed by Oxford and everything the university has to offer.
I loved the descriptions of Holly at Oxford.
As a fellow northerner who, like Holly, read English, there was lots of connections in the book – even though young Holly ends up with magnificent rooms in one of the former mens’ colleges, whereas I had a box room in a womens only college. But setting aside that bit of generational jealousy, the descriptions of tutorials and libraries, the thrilling sense of studying amidst such beauty – all of that rang so true. Made me quite nostalgic.
This moment (below), for example, is perfect – when, years later, you look at your freshers’ Matric photo:
“There they are: two girls, the face is the size of fingerprints, dotted at either end of a row stretching the length of the chapel; standing, she remembers it now, on a bench. Girls who were physically dissimilar – one plump; one slim – but who read the same subject and shared the same optimism: that sense that they were about to embark on a glorious three years. Like divers primed at the edge of a pool, they were poised for the most marvellous adventure – and the faces of Sophie and Holly shimmered with hope, not fear.”
Years later, Sophie & James are married, 2 children, north London home, nanny. Living the dream. James is in government, Sophie is a devoted stay-at-home mother.
The story moves between the early 90s, the Oxford years, and 2016 when James is accused of a terrible crime, and their carefully constructed life falls apart.
James is accused of raping a young woman who works for him and as the case moves to trial, with his career on the line, Sophie is torn between trusting her husband, whom she instinctively believes is innocent, and fleeing London to shield her children from everything.
Then there is Kate, the QC assigned to prosecute James.
Kate is a single woman in her 40s, highly successful, focused on her career, and with a very strong sense of the importance of the rule of law.
Kate wants to win this trial, as it will cement her already formidable reputation for her handling of cases of sexual violence.
When you see the young woman who accuses James of raping her, in court, forced to relive every moment of the event, it is truly shocking, very moving and very painful to watch.
This is a gripping story, and your emotions & opinions of the 3 main protagonists change as the trial unfolds, and as the writer delves ever further into those heady, carefree Oxford days.
A great read.
Thoroughly enjoyed it.