As the London Film Festival draws to a close, my reading will change again to longer and more challenging books. I am not suggesting that the books I read during the Festival were in any way shoddy or trite; simply that they were chosen from the TBR pile on size rather than content.
The final selection was the new book by Stella Duffy, a most versatile author, successful in many genres. In The Hidden Room, she has returned to her thriller mode, though this is also a very intense lesbian love affair. I have always thought it must be tremendous fun writing thrillers, not necessarily the Scandi-noir gore fests, but the more psychological ones like this.
We find ourselves living with a family, two parents and three children. The parents are both women and the children are all from either; one mother Mom, or the other Mum.
Hope is Laurie’s daughter and the twins, Amy and Jack, are Martha’s. They are good mothers, by any standard, and allow their children to pursue their various passions supportively, actively and all is going well.
The cracks start to widen though when Laurie, an architect, wins an impressive prize and begins to have more work further away from home, for longer and longer periods. Not that Martha feels anything but joy in Laurie’s success, her own home based web-design business makes this a perfectly, or imperfectly, workable arrangement.
Hope joins a dance class, and Martha becomes one of the teacher’s clients in his life skills counselling. Solomon is beautiful and helpful, and a good listener and for no obvious reason, Martha keeps this private.
Amy and Jack are sporty and follow a rigorous training together, mostly swimming and running; up early for training, off to school and after school more training; so it does not impinge on anyone’s consciousness when Hope begins to spend more and more time intensively training in her dance classes.
That is until…
Laurie also has her secrets and withholding the details of her past life is one of them, much of the detail of which she withholds for good reason, but this will not work in her favour forever.
This is a very tense and intriguing story, the narration zips along between the present and Laurie’s past. We do not know all that much about Martha’s background – an ordinary life on a farm, which she wanted to escape to become an artist, fair enough. She is now often occupied helping her aging father, especially after the death of her mother; which is to say we do not revisit Martha’s childhood at the time it was happening, we only know how looking after her parents is affecting her now.
There are terrific, in the real sense, resonances here and the writing is compelling, vivid and engaging. You can hardly breathe as the tension rises, let alone put the book down.