Opening sentence: “The beck is frozen into silence.”
I’ve had a string of really great reads recently, so that’s how I know The Body Lies has something extra special about it. It made its mark on me and shot to the top of my already excellent recent-reads list. From the above opening sentence, I was completely sucked in and it didn’t disappoint. An experience made even more enjoyable as I really didn’t know what to expect from this novel, I’d just picked it up in the library on a whim. Maybe I liked it so much because it also struck me on a visceral level; the (unnamed) lead character has a three-year-old son called Sam, as do I, and Jo Baker is so good at keeping a high level of tension thrumming throughout, that every time Sam was mentioned, my heart contracted for fear something would happen to him. I couldn’t not imagine my little Sammy.
The Body Lies starts with our narrator being attacked on the street when pregnant, which affects her (as you would imagine), then when she’s offered a job as a creative writing lecturer at a university ‘up North’, she’s more than happy to leave the dangerous streets of London for quiet village living. Her husband, Mark, however, is not. So they start a long-distance marriage situation (he visits at the weekends) but this leaves her essentially isolated, juggling motherhood and a full time job, alone. We learn about her students through the creative writing pieces they are working on in her class. It’s one particular student, Nicholas, who pushes all boundaries with his tutor and tries to blend reality and fiction with his writing, with dramatic consequences.
The students’ work brings in a stories within the story element; the tone of voice switches effortlessly between each student’s work and adds thought-provoking moments about the writing process, character stereotypes and what the reader expects when they pick up a book. Jo Baker then seamlessly executes the literary critique she talks about, cleverly creating story threads that subvert your expectations.
That said, in places the narrator’s behaviour jarred as I found myself thinking, ‘well, that’s not how I would have reacted in that situation’ BUT this is not a book written from my POV, it would be really weird if it was. She is written as a strong, independent woman who makes her own choices, and certainly not the ones that are assumed of her, or thrust upon her. That’s why I found this such an engrossing read, plus it had the perfect tone, pace, exciting sense of danger, knife-edge atmosphere and some classic thriller elements thrown into the mix too. All this meant I literally couldn’t stop reading The Body Lies. An intelligent page-turner, I highly recommend it!
- Published by Doubleday 2019
- 273 pages
- My Rating: