The Heights Louise Candlish Book Review

Book review: ‘The Heights’ by Louise Candlish, a slow-burn domestic noir about motherhood, retribution, and obsession ★★★★

How far would you go to protect your children? To what lengths would you pursue justice for anyone who did them harm? Ellen Saint is less than thrilled when her golden boy, Lucas, is matched as a ‘buddy’ at sixth form with Kieran, whose foster-home upbringing and non-standard English is worlds apart from Ellen’s carefully-cultivated suburban London home and Oxbridge aspirations for her son.

She sounds like a Karen, and yet she’s not an unsympathetic character. Kieran is rude, obnoxious, seemingly untalented in anything other than leading Lucas astray. Before Ellen knows it, they’re out most nights drinking and taking drugs, and Lucas’s university aspirations are rapidly fading. And then the unthinkable happens, and Ellen’s dislike of Kieran turns into a full-blown obsession, consuming her day and night. Unable to forgive or move on, she channels her energy into a campaign to destroy him.

‘Far from getting cold feet, I had begun to feel the fanaticism of someone whose mission is absolutely – almost divinely – right.’

In a clever structure, Ellen’s retelling of the course of events is framed as a writing project for female victims of crime, and is interspersed with extracts from a newspaper article, painting the story in another (more impartial?) light. When the perspective shifts halfway through, to that of Lucas’s father, Vic, we see things from yet another angle.

‘When you write your history, you find that you identify – and scatter – clues you couldn’t possibly have seen when you were living events in the present. Which means what’s blindingly obvious to you reading this now was unfathomable to me at the time.’

It’s funny how there are base instincts that compel even the most respectable amongst us to acts of lunacy. Ellen suffers from ‘l’appel du vide’ – the urge to jump when confronted with a steep drop, such as you might find on a bridge, the edge of a cliff, or the roof of a skyscraper.

I almost finished this in one sitting on a transatlantic flight (and it accompanied me through the jetlag of the following days). In Candlish’s fiction – as in life – there are rarely clear-cut heroes and villains, and her well-plotted domestic noirs don’t want for depth or nuance. The pace is measured rather than frantic, but gut-wrenching in its slow reveals, the truths and untruths that emerge as the story unfolds.

With thanks to Simon & Schuster for the advanced copy. The Heights will be published in March 2022.

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Book Review | Our House by Louise Candlish

Trinity Avenue is your typical suburban, leafy London street. Well, typical in the sense that the houses are worth several millions of pounds – one of the most coveted postcodes in the area. Properties on this street are gold dust; once you have one, you hang onto it –for better or worse.

So when Fi returns home one January afternoon from a romantic getaway with her new boyfriend, only to find what looks like removal men outside her front door, she thinks that there must have been some terrible mistake.

Only she’s not mistaken. A young woman is standing in the kitchen, directing the movers, equally as befuddled. She and her husband have been coveting one of these houses for an age, and now it’s signed, sealed and delivered. The contracts were exchanged that morning. And Fi’s estranged husband Bram is nowhere to be found.

‘If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster / And treat those two imposters just the same … you’ll be a man, my son!’

We learned that at school.

They didn’t tell us that the worst disasters would be those of our own making.

This is a chilling domestic noir – perceptive, sharp and unsettling. The bounds of credibility are stretched taut – but Candlish never oversteps the mark. Even when the premise seems ridiculous, the story that unravels takes us deep down a rabbit warren of deceit, desperation and dark depths of despair in such a way that makes the whole tale real and believable. The story is divided into three narrative threads; Fi, telling her story on a radio show called The Victim, Bram’s Word Doc version of events, and an omniscient narrator tying together the spaces in between. These voices work in tandem to construct the events that lead to that fateful afternoon in January. But with two unreliable narrators, who can we trust? Our memories are so imperfect. Not to mention, there are things we would rather conceal – even from ourselves.

What is extraordinary is just how ordinary everyone is; regular people living regular lives. There are no serial killers lurking in dark spaces, no kidnappers ready to snatch away your little ones. Real fear comes from not knowing the people closest to you, having no idea what they are capable of. And whilst this novel felt a little bit convoluted at times, it nevertheless kept me guessing – right up until the last page. When I read that last line, I had shivers all up and down my spine.

I voluntarily read this copy provided by NetGalley. Our House will be published on August 7th 2018.

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Read if you enjoyed: The Lying Game by Ruth Ware, Dear Amy by Helen Callaghan