Publication: 8th March 2018 from Michael Joseph
ALEXANDRA SOUTHWOOD HAS VANISHED . . .
AND SHE KNOWS THEY WILL NEVER FIND HER . . .
‘This story I have to tell is more than a collection of facts. I have no reason to paint a better or worse picture than what really happened. I’ve already lost everything.’
Alexandra Southwood is missing. Her husband is beside himself, or at least he appears to be. She has vanished into thin air; the only traces left are her bloodied clothes by the riverside. It isn’t long before the police are searching for a body.
But we know that she is alive. That she is being kept somewhere far from her family. That perhaps this wife and mother wasn’t quite what she seemed . . .
Be warned: this isn’t another missing-woman thriller. This is something far more shocking . . .
Exhibit Alexandra is an original and thought provoking novel. I stayed awake thinking about it long after I had read the last page. Not an easy book to review because it raises quite a few disturbing questions, not least of which is whether women can really have both what they need and what they want. Whether conformity suppresses who we are and strips us of our liberty.
Alex was a young woman studying art when she met Marc Southwood. Studying at the School of Art Institute in Chicago, but temporarily at home in the UK, she is both a photographer and a practitioner of performance art; a contemporary of some of the greatest performance artists in the 21st Century.
But when she meets Marc she knows that she has to spend the rest of her life with him. They are right together, two halves making one marvellous whole, and she makes the decision to put her career on the back burner and come back to the UK to be with him.
Thirteen years later they are still together; still very much in love and with two children, Lizzie and Charlotte whom they both dote on. They have a close circle of friends, both are in work and their home life is both harmonious and fun.
Then one day Alex simply doesn’t come home. Marc is beside himself with worry. The police take the case seriously, especially when Alex’s belongings are found by the river, together with evidence that she has suffered severe blood loss. The case is now classified as possible attempted murder and or abduction.
But we know Alex is alive because we have her voice throughout the book telling us what is happening to her; how she is being held in a bare room by someone who wants her to know just how badly her family is suffering and who demands that she tell him every aspect of her life and marriage.
As the months roll on and there is still no sign of Alex, the police feel they can do no more. They have found some anomalies in Marc’s account of Alex’s life and her travels, but nothing that helps lead them to her. Marc is bewildered by some of what the police now know; it makes no sense to him.
He discovers a box of letters in the attic between Alex and her long time artist friend Amelia in NYC. This sheds light on the depth of their female relationship but still leaves him searching for an ungraspable underlying truth about who Alex really is and why she has been economical with the truth.
As Marc finally decides to pursue Alex’s friendship with Amelia – the one part of her life he knows nothing about, his search for Amelia will lead him to an end he never saw coming.
It is Alex and Marc’s recounting of their daily lives, of the minutiae that make up their partnership that adds to the questioning that lies at the heart of this book. That does make it slow going sometimes. I worked out what was happening half way through the book, but that did not diminish the need to understand what was going on and what lay beneath the actions of these characters.
Is this a profound book? I’m not sure. But I do know that the questions it has raised in my mind, about feminism, art and the compromises women make in relationships are ones I will be thinking about long after this book has been published.
About Natasha Bell
Natasha Bell grew up in Somerset and studied English Literature and Theatre at the University of York and Mount Holyoke College, before moving to Chicago to take an MA in the Humanities. Over-educated and entirely unemployable, she spent her twenties in York writing TV listings and working as a barista and a projectionist. She recently completed an MA in Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths and now writes full-time from her home in south-east London.
Follow Natasha on @byTashB