Fragile by Sarah Hilary – Book review

Do you like your psychological thrillers unexpected and a little chilling? Then you’ve come to the right book. Fragile is an excellent blend of a cracking page-turning story and a delve into the depths of human nature that gets your mind whirring.

Opening sentence: London looks so different in the daylight.

Meet your unreliable narrator

Nell Ballard is a very intriguing character. An unreliable narrator – but not for reasons you might think. She is one of the most layered and complex characters I’ve read in a while in regards to the way you couldn’t quite second guess her.

I had the idea he was checking the air for the flavour of my lie. Lies taste different to the truth.

Essentially abandoned by her mother, Nell grew up in a foster home run by Meagan Flack. Meagan, however, doesn’t have a maternal bone in her, so from a young age Nell learns to both care for herself and her foster-siblings. She develops close relationships with fellow foster kids Joe Peach and Rosie and this, ultimately is the catalyst for her troubles.

Behind Starling Villas

After a traumatic event, Nell and Joe, now eighteen, run away from their foster home in Wales to London. This is where their lives become intrinsically entangled with those of Dr. Robin Wilder and his wife, Carolyn.

I wonder if he’d understood what he’d let into his house.

Nell gets a job as housekeeper of Starling Villas, the impressive but run down three-story home of the Wilders. From the off, the atmosphere is strange. Nell has to work out exactly what Dr. Wilder really wants from her, while trying to understand both his wife Carolyn’s relationship with Joe and her own relationship with Joe. Bound by their history, or so Nell thought…

Not love, not now. What we had was darker and dirtier. Joe thought he could outrun it, but I knew better.

Dark, clever and fragile

I really liked how we got chapters from both Nell and Meagan, so get to see both sides of the story – two versions of Nell’s character. The excellent way it was written meant that perceptions shifted subtly – and sometimes more obviously, adding to the general sense of tension and kept me on my toes.

I ultimately found myself feeling sorry for Nell and the ending had my heart in my mouth. These clashing emotions are a good indication of the brilliantly visceral read Fragile is.

A clever and dark psychological thriller with a unique story to tell and an array of emotionally damaged and, yes, fragile characters, who each develop as the narrative goes on. Yep, I loved this book.

A random note to finish – Fragile is the third book I’ve read in the last month with a lead character named Nell (or Nella), the others being Circus of Wonders by Elizabeth Macneal and The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris. The books are not similar in any way thematically, but all excellent!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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