Bo Luxton has it all – a loving family, a beautiful home in the Lake District, and a clutch of bestselling books to her name. Enter Alice Dark, an aspiring writer who is drifting through life, with a series of dead-end jobs and a freeloading boyfriend. When they meet at a writers’ retreat, the chemistry is instant, and a sinister relationship develops … Or does it? Breathlessly pacey, taut and terrifying, Exquisite is a startlingly original and unbalancing psychological thriller that will keep you guessing until the very last page.
Exquisite is published by Orenda Books. What that means to me is that, whether or not I love the book, the writing will always be top notch. And so it is with Exquisite – a book which more than lives up to its name.
I did love this book. Like a thin shard of glass, Exquisite punctures the heart and the shard first warms and then freezes until, like glass, the heart shatters.
Set in the beautiful countryside of the Lakes, Exquisite is a story of compulsion, obsession and egoism.
Bo Luxton is a woman who has everything she could possibly need. A beautiful house in the Lake District, a husband and two lovely daughters and to cap it all, she is a successful best-selling novelist. She often tutors in a creative writers’ school, and it is while she is sifting through the entries for that year’s course that she comes across Alice’s entry. Raw, powerful and emotive, Alice’s essay impresses her with its emotional truth.
Alice is a bit feckless, not really knowing what she wants to do with her life; she is living it with the thoughtlessness of the young. She is shacked up in Brighton with her easy going, utterly useless boyfriend, whose idea of hard work is going out to look for the next party, or getting stoned for a week.
Alice knows she would like to write, but earns her living by teaching English in a language school for off the books payments.
Bo recommends Alice for a bursary and the two meet at the course for the first time. Though Bo initially keeps her distance from all her students, there is no doubt that Alice has something special that draws them together.
What follows is a fascinating and utterly compelling account of two fractured people whose lives intersect at a point when both are vulnerable.
It is almost like watching a car crash in slow, blurred motion; you know it is bound to end in tears, but it is not clear who is in the driving seat and who should take responsibility for the accident because the two versions of the same incidents are quite different.
As events develop the reader is never quite sure who the more reliable narrator is, but the tension builds and builds until you know for sure that something has to give. The setting of the beautiful lakes contrasts with the mounting tension and atmosphere of poison in the air, and Stovell’s beautifully constructed prose adds to the credibility of the narrative.
This is exquisite love and exquisite pain. The two are seemingly inextricably linked. With pace, heaps of tension, and an ending which leaves you questioning everything, this dual first person narrative is a massive contender for psychological thriller of the year.
Exquisite is published in paperback by Orenda Books on June 15th 2017