Set in North West London, Ruth is woken by a scream one night, and later thinks she sees something, on her quiet cul-de-sac. But no one will believe her and she’s not sure that she can believe herself, because after the birth of her baby, she experienced post partum psychosis. Her delusions were strong enough that she thought her sister was stuck in the walls of their home and ripped out the walls to try and find her. But is this different? Is this real?
I really liked the concept behind this book, though I think the domestic thriller trope of a women with mental health issues who isn’t sure if she’s being gaslighted or not is starting to be over-used and only works when it’s done really well. The author seems to have done her research and I think she creates a really interesting and realistic portrait of a woman who is depressed and going through a lot. It felt pretty believable the way she approached people and situations, and I liked that. But she was a hard person to spend a whole book with. I didn’t like her much. I think because of her depressed state, she wasn’t all that nice to other people and often felt quite selfish to me. Which makes sense for the psychology of character, but I just didn’t feel great after spending time with her over the course of the book. She’s quite callous towards a character who has experienced some very real trauma.
Actually, when you read this, you might find that there are very few characters that you do like. I think to say more might mean spoilers, so I won’t say anything, but expect some of them to make you real mad.
The book hints early on at something to do with Ruth’s sister, Tam, in the past. This ends up not being a huge plot point, but it is a nicely used thread through the book to lead us into who Ruth is and perhaps part of why having a baby has brought up a lot of feelings for her that need resolving. I liked the way this was teased in the opening pages, it really draws you in.
The book has a really nice atmosphere for a domestic thriller. By nice I do not mean pleasant. For a start, the elderly neighbour is referred to as a witch. Ruth, on her medication with makes her gain weight, is a weepy mushroom. It also rains a lot, there’s dark pools of oil in the road, there are train tracks and broken glass, empty rooms with unpacked boxes and ripped up baseboards… Oh, and that overly perfect couple Sandra and Liam. Definitely something sinister about them. It’s an area that used to be poor, and Ruth seems to be a symbol of change, of gentrification, and is an outsider, or at least feels like one. I really liked this mood and tone overall.
This isn’t literary fiction. The book is one of those nice, fast reads, like a lot of domestic thrillers. And that’s not a criticism, I actually really like that about these kinds of stories. The language is straightforward and wants to tell us a good yarn with a twist. On the whole, I think this is a fairly good book and is successful in it’s aim. However, the ending, or the last few chapters, do feel a little rushed and I’m not sure I loved spending time with a main character who was depressed. It was, well, kind of depressing, which might not be what you want to read right now. But I do think it will please a lot of domestic thriller readers, even if it’s not a game changer. There’s some good writing here.
Read It If: this is one of those books that you’d enjoy reading on the commute to work. I enjoyed the atmosphere and general premise, but disliked the protagonist. Should please domestic thriller readers.
Thank you PGC Books for the ARC of this book for review. The Hidden Girls is out now.