Tag Archives: The Body Lies

The Body Lies by Jo Baker: ‘Giving up is not consent’

Jo Baker seems to be one of those writers who can master any genre. Her last novel, A Country Road, a Tree, was a fictionalised account of Samuel Beckett’s involvement with the French Resistance. Not a theme that appealed to me but I remember very much enjoying her ghost story, The Telling. In The Body Lies, she turns her hand to thriller writing, not my customary literary terrain but it’s told from the point of view of a creative writing lecturer, an idea which intrigued me.

Our unnamed narrator is assaulted on her way home from work, managing to fight her assailant off and greatly relieved that the baby she’s carrying is unharmed. Still shaken by the assault’s aftershocks three years later, she applies for a creative writing lectureship, surprised by her acceptance on the strength of her first novel. Her husband will stay in London, unwilling to give up his teaching post, visiting her and their son at weekends. Settling in is tough: she finds herself with more work than she’d expected, teaching both undergraduates and the six MA students she’d originally imagined would make up her entire teaching load. One student, Nicholas, stands out from the other five, producing polished but disturbing assignments. Soon, he’s the centre of the group, engaging sympathy with his passages about a lost girl and his declaration that he only writes the truth. At the end of the Michaelmas term, Nicholas holds a party insisting on walking our narrator back to her isolated house and leaving her at the door. When the babysitter drives off, Nicholas reappears, and our narrator lets him in. What follows is shocking, if not entirely surprising, but the account of what Nicholas has done to her, written in the form of his latest novel extract, chills her to the bone.

I’ve been puzzled and dismayed by the seemingly endless stream of thrillers depicting violence against women, both in print and on screen; even more so as some of them are by female authors. At first, The Body Lies could be mistaken for another, if classier, take on this trope but Baker steers clear of graphic detail, choosing instead to explore the portrayal of women in fiction and the way in which they respond to violence while still smartly ratcheting up the tension. Our narrator tells much of the story but other narrative voices appear in the form of assignments from her students plus documents and statements from others. The creative writing device is a clever one and the academic details are spot on – all too familiar to this lecturer’s partner. It’s a gripping novel which offers a critique of the genre while managing to be a successful addition to it. I wonder which form Baker will explore next. Given her outlines for the MA short story submissions, I’m hoping she might have her sights set on her own collection.

Books to Look Out for in June 2019: Part One

Cover imageNo prizes for guessing which book tops June’s list of new titles if you’ve had your eye on Transworld’s tweets. Big Sky is Kate Atkinson’s first Jackson Brodie novel in nine years. For those not yet familiar with Jackson, he’s a private investigator with a military background and a career in the Cambridge Constabulary behind him. This new instalment sees him returned from Edinburgh to his native Yorkshire. His current case, an apparently straightforward one of infidelity, draws him into a sinister network and back into his past. ‘Old secrets and new lies intersect in this breathtaking new novel, both sharply funny and achingly sad, by one of the most dazzling and surprising writers at work today’ say the publishers. Regular readers won’t be surprised to hear I’ve already devoured this one. Such a treat, particularly as it’s not even a year since Transcription was published.

Jo Baker’s The Body Lies is also a novel of suspense according to the blurb. A young writer accepts a job at a university deep in the countryside hoping to turn her back on the assault she endured in the city but finds herself involved in a vitriolic debate about violence against women. Tension is ratcheted up when a student sends her sample chapters of his novel whose main protagonist resembles herself. ‘At once a breathless battle-of-wits and a disarming exploration of sexual politics, The Body Lies is an essential book for our times’ according to the publishers.

I’m not entirely sure about Tim Lott’s When We Were Rich but its premise is an appealing one. Six people gather on a London rooftop on Millennium Eve to watch the fireworks on the Thames. All seems rosy as the economy booms but mass immigration from Eastern Europe is causing rumbles of discontent and religious fundamentalism is making itself known. How will these six weather the challenges ahead? ‘Sad, shocking and often hilarious, it is an acutely observed novel of all our lives, set during what was for some a golden time – and for others a nightmare,Cover image from which we are yet to wake up’ say the publishers. Apparently, this new novel sees the return of characters who first appeared in White City Blue, a novel I read but about which I can remember nothing.

My reservations about Craig Cliff’s The Mannequin Makers are based largely on the idea that I don’t much enjoy historical novels but I’m beginning to question that having after reading several excellent ones last year. Cliff’s story sees a recently widowed window dresser hatch a plan to scupper a rival whose mannequins are uncannily lifelike. ‘What follows is a gothic tale of art and deception, strength and folly, love and transgression, which ranges from small-town New Zealand to the graving docks of the River Clyde in Scotland. Along the way we meet a Prussian strongman, a family of ship’s carvers with a mysterious affliction, a septuagenarian surf lifesaver and a talking figurehead named Vengeance’ apparently. I’m a little concerned about that talking figurehead but it does sound original

Claire McGlasson’s The Rapture is about The Panacea Society, a religious community made up almost entirely of single ladies who patiently awaited the return of the Lord. A devoted member of the Society, Dilys makes friends with Grace, a new recruit, but becomes wary of their leader’s zealotry. ‘As her feelings for Grace bud and bloom, the Society around her begins to crumble. Faith is supplanted by doubt as both women come to question what is true and fear what is real’ according to the publishers. The Panacea Society was based in a Victoria villa in Bedford, a town I lived in for a couple of years without the slightest knowledge of the cult’s existence. The last member died in 2012, apparently.

Claire Lombardo’s The Most Fun We Ever Had sounds rather more down to earth. Much loved by their parents, the four Sorenson sisters have their lives turned upside down by the reappearance of a teenage boy given up for adoption years earlier. ‘Weaving between past and present, The Most Fun We Ever Had portrays the delights and difficulties of family life and the endlessly complex mixture of affection and abhorrence we feel for those closest to us’ say the publishers which suggests family secrets and a novel to escape into to me, perhaps heralding the beginning of the summer reading season.

That’s it for the first batch of June’s new titles. As ever, a click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis should you want to know more. Second instalment soon…