Source: Review copy
Publication: 19th September from Picador
One winter’s afternoon on Hampstead Heath in 1980, Elise Morceau meets Constance Holden and quickly falls under her spell. Connie is bold and alluring, a successful writer whose novel is being turned into a major Hollywood film. Elise follows Connie to LA, a city of strange dreams and swimming pools and late-night gatherings of glamorous people. But whilst Connie thrives on the heat and electricity of this new world where everyone is reaching for the stars and no one is telling the truth, Elise finds herself floundering. When she overhears a conversation at a party that turns everything on its head, Elise makes an impulsive decision that will change her life forever.
Three decades later, Rose Simmons is seeking answers about her mother, who disappeared when she was a baby. Having learned that the last person to see her was Constance Holden, a reclusive novelist who withdrew from public life at the peak of her fame, Rose is drawn to the door of Connie’s imposing house in search of a confession . . .
Let’s start with the headline. This book is an awesome read. Beautiful writing combined with a completely immersive story arc, The Confession just blew me away with the quality of the writing and the strength of the characterisation. Once I had started to read, I literally could not stop until I got to the end.
A dual timeline narrative, The Confession is a captivating, bold story about relationships, love, motherhood and what it is to be a creative artist.
We begin in 1980. Elise is a young woman living a fairly aimless life. She works in a café and does some modelling work for art students. She finds it easy to stay unmoving for hours on end. Her life is like this, static, going nowhere fast. On a walk one day on Hampstead Heath, she meets Connie, a woman whose personality dominates everything, including Elise. Connie is a novelist and she is currently enjoying a period of high profile esteem.
Connie is older than Elise, by Elise is captivated by this powerful, forceful woman and it is not long before she is under her spell and the two begin a relationship that is all-encompassing. It is not long before Elise is living with Connie and basking in the adoration that is typical of consuming passion.
At the height of her fame, Connie’s most recent book is to be made into a movie and Connie and Elise travel to L.A. where the film is to be made. Once they are there, though, Elise begins to realise that her role as Connie’s consort is one that somehow diminishes her and as Connie’s focus shifts to the new movie crowd that she is moving with, Elise feels increasingly pushed to the edge of Connie’s world.
In London, in 2017, Rose Simmons is living with Joe, a man whose ambitions are limited but who, nevertheless is incapable of realising them. She is drifting along, believing herself to be in love, but is yet strangely unsatisfied with life, though she refuses to acknowledge it. Rose was brought up by her father, who now lives in France, but is haunted by the fact that she never knew her mother, and her father has never talked about her, or what happened to her, and that has left Rose with a whole host of questions to which there are seemingly no answers.
Finally, she manages to pin her father down to divulging something about her mother and Elise learns about Connie Holden and that Connie was the last person to see her mother. Connie is now in her 70’s and living a reclusive life. Armed only with Connie’s two published novels, Rose blags her way into Connie’s life, adopting a new name and taking on a position as Connie’s aide. For Connie, now riddled with arthritis needs help to complete her new manuscript, her first book for decades.
Rose finds, as she makes herself indispensable to the fractious and overwhelmingly selfish Connie, that she is coming to like and admire her, even as she struggles to find out more about her mother, without knowing how to reveal her own deception and tell Connie the truth about who she is and why she is there.
Burton slowly peels back the layers of deception that have pervaded these women’s lives and the reader watches open-mouthed as we learn what transpired between Connie and Elise, and at the same time, see Rose’s life changing as she discovers her own sense of self, as she falls a little under Connie’s spell.
The lives of these three women are inextricably intertwined and it is their personalities, foibles and ultimately their betrayals that define their lives.
Burton’s writing is wholly immersive and her characters are true and bold. The nature of mothers and children; childlessness and love are all explored through these lives and the consequences of a series of betrayals are emotional and revealing.
Connie is a brilliant character; driven by her creativity to the exclusion of everything and everyone, she is incapable of setting aside time to pledge herself to anything but her art; her relationships are all predicated on that behaviour. Both Elise and Rose have more submissive personalities that initially play well into Connie’s life, but which ultimately cannot withstand her single mindedness.
For Elise, the revelations that the hole in her life creates are devastating; for Rose they reveal a character that becomes more fully formed as she discovers her own sense of self through an examination of her life and motivation.
Verdict: The Confession is a devastating narrative about friendships, secrets, love and what it means to be a successful woman on your own terms. As such it is complex, coruscating, enveloping and completely mesmerising. I loved it.
Jessie Burton is the author of the Sunday Times number one and New York Times bestsellers The Miniaturist and The Muse, and the children’s book The Restless Girls. In its year of publication The Miniaturist sold over a million copies and in 2017 it was adapted into a major TV series for BBC One. Her novels have been translated into 38 languages, and she is a regular essay writer for newspapers and magazines.