Review: A Version of the Truth by BP Walter

Opening sentence: “I’m reaching for a Mulberry purse when I feel someone standing close behind me.”

I’ve just finished reading A Version of the Truth on my commute home and I feel a little disturbed in all honesty. The ending took the plot to a place I didn’t expect and it all felt very unsettling. This book is a strange mix of unlikeable elements written in such a way that I had to keep turning the pages to see what would happen.

We have two narrators, Holly Rowe (in 1990) who describes her time as a fresher at Oxford University and Julianne Knight (in 2019), now a mother and wife, but in 1990 she was at Oxford with Holly. They are both in love with the same man, but that is the very least of their problems…

If you are of the opinion that certain types of rich, privileged Oxford students are nothing but terrible people, then this book will do nothing to change your mind. Let me explain: Holly is from a working class background, earns herself a place at the prestigious University and there she is befriended by Ally, Ernest, James and Peter who are all rich, entitled and as Holly puts it, “It was their arrogant belief that nothing ordinary applied to them.” Ally adopts Holly as a sort of pity-project, her brother Ernest and his friend James immediately see Holly’s vulnerability at being out of her depth at Oxford and pounce on it. Literally. Holly veers between not wanting to be friends with these people and feeling she has to impress them. She can see them for what they are (or at least the side they initially present to her), but being accepted into a friendship group is something she craves. When, one night, a game of spin-the-bottle starts, she sees it as, “An invitation to set the record straight and refute any idea that I was this sheltered, prudish, insignificant person, lost in their posh, exciting world of decadent deeds.” But this is her big mistake.

Ernest and James believe it is their god-given right to treat people (mainly women) any way they like just because of who they think they are. They are experts at projecting a veneer of respectability, but underneath they are vile.

What initially attracted me to this book was reviews likening it to The Secret History (which I love) and I can see why the references were made, however, A Version of the Truth lacks the nuanced plot of that to really compare – it’s more that there is an elitist clique of students and a sinister undertone. This is not an easy read, there’s sexual violence and disturbing scenarios, probably not one to recommend to elderly relatives for example. The ending felt a little abrupt, but it is well written and, I haven’t actually had such a visceral reaction to certain characters for a long time.

I was kindly sent this book in exchange for an honest review.

/Published 8th February 2019 by Avon

/ 354 pages

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