Joanna Oliva is a happily married thirty year old woman who lives in a basement flat in London. She adores her husband Reuben, and enjoys her job working on one of London’s mobile library buses. She goes out one night to a bar for a ‘catch up’ with a girlfriend. A patron of the bar asks for a ‘selfie’ with them, then makes himself generally annoying by not leaving them alone. He is tall, dressed in black and is wearing bright red trainers.
After a while, the two women leave the bar and part ways. Then, as Joanna is walking toward home, she hears footsteps behind her. The footsteps follow her down the rain slick steps toward a canal path. She glances behind a moment and sees bright red trainers… She knows that it is the man from the bar. When he gets very close, she turns quickly and pushes him down the steps…
What follows is one of two vastly different scenarios:
REVEAL – One in which Joanna calls the police and confesses what she did, is charged with ‘grievous bodily harm’ and is subject to a bail hearing and a possible jail sentence. In this scenario she is ashamed, loses her job, has trouble communicating with her husband and gains weight. She feels unworthy and wonders if the people she loves will stand by her.
CONCEAL – The other scenario is where Joanna flees the scene. Afterward she is plagued by guilt and remorse. She loses weight. Her guilt is like a cancer eating her from the inside out. She tells lie after lie, and furtively lives her life wondering if, and when, the police will catch up with her.
“My body is flooded with cold, cruel fear. I never realized it before, but fear is the worst of all emotions. With sadness, you cry. With grief, you miss somebody. But fear. Fear gets under your skin. And you can do nothing but feel it.”
In a word TENSE. That clenched, panicky feeling kept me turning pages rapidly. Women everywhere have known that feeling. Walking alone, then you hear footsteps behind you. You are just not thinking rationally due to fear and anxiety.
Our protagonist, Joanna lashes out in her fear and what follows is a dire moral quandary. Should she call an ambulance? Or, should she walk away?
The author brilliantly explores both choices – dividing this novel into chapters labelled ‘Reveal‘ and ‘Conceal‘. It evokes a feeling of ‘between a rock and a hard place’, because either way Joanna decides, she cannot really cope with her decision… Although I liked the alternate chapters format in some ways, it was also a bit off-putting at times. I was just getting into the story, when OH NO! now we’re exploring the other scenario.
Joanna herself was a young woman that I empathized with, but yet couldn’t really warm to. She seemed very immature for her thirty years, but they say thirty is the new twenty… She was prone to procrastination and unreliability.
This novel covers themes of guilt, atonement, secrets, and moral dilemmas. It explores the fact that one decision, one quick moment in time, can change your entire life.
3.5 stars rounded up for Amazon and down for GoodreadsThis review was written voluntarily and my rating was in no way influenced by the fact that I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel from G.P. Putnam’s Sons/Penguin Publishing Group via Edelweiss.
Published: June 2, 2020 Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Note: This novel was published under a different title in the United Kingdom.
Gillian McAllister is the author of The Good Sister, as well as several Sunday Times bestsellers in the UK. She lives in Birmingham, England, where she worked as a lawyer and now writes full time.
Follow Gillian McAllister on Twitter @GillianMAuthor