Nearest Thing to Crazy by Elizabeth Forbes
It all begins so innocently. A village group of friends enjoying lunch together. Everyone is relatively well off, living in beautiful houses, knowing who their friends are, certain of their place. There may have been cracks; an affair, difficult parents, money worries. There is nothing really to worry about, though, everyone is so nice. Into this perfect summer day walks Ellie. Attractive, vibrant, she catches the eye, is reluctant to share her own story but open to everyone else’s secrets. She seems keen to blend in, even bond. She seems to be alone, having moved into a new barn conversion, apparently fleeing from London. Cassandra is welcoming, attempting to include her, offering lifts, an outing. Within days something seems to be not quite right, confidences exchanged are used, “concerned” allegations are made. Cassandra begins to think that there is more to Ellie than meets the eye, and that writing a novel may be a cover for something else, far closer to home.
This is a brilliantly written and plotted tale of clever invasion of a conciousness, seen from the eyes of a woman who is rapidly becoming concerned and confused about this new person in her life. Cassandra, narrator and perhaps victim is a woman who begins to feel besieged in the most insidious of ways. This is a sort of domestic thriller, though not in the sense of physical danger. Cassandra is married to a man, Dan, whom she loves but who can be distant. Their only child, Laura, is becoming distant from her, at university and apparently closer to her indulgent father. A mother who is manipulative, who likes to wound her daughter, must be visited regularly, even though nothing is ever good enough. The things that Cassandra enjoys – gardening, cooking and being in the domestic sphere, seem inadequate compared with the stylish life of Ellie, successful ex journalist and novelist. This is a book that has a lot to say about the insecurity felt by women in society, when violence is not only physical. I found this a chilling and effectively written novel, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.
Cassandra loves her husband, “cosy Dan”, relaxing at weekends, interested in gossip, mostly thoughtful, despite his worries about his job in the notoriously fickle world of advertising. Laura is further away, and her visits can be spasmodic, but there is evidence that she needs her mother despite her usual air of self-containment. Cassandra’s mother, safely in a residential home is “brutally honest” bitter, accusing, and impossible to please. Cassandra has her worries, but also her joys, such as her garden, her friends, her community. Ellie seems to be trying to undermine that, suggesting that she is upset, perhaps a little unstable. Cassandra confides that she had post-natal depression when Laura was born; perhaps, it seems Ellie is suggesting, that depression is returning.
This is a novel where the narrator discovers that she is being undercut on every side, forced to question everything, must respond to what is being insinuated. She feels she has no where to turn, no one to believe her, in her doubts about her husband, her daughter, even her own thoughts. This is such a clever novel, exploring the pressures that can be placed on women in contemporary society, the control that can be exercised without being suspected. It questions what can be believed, who has the truth, even if it exists. It works on the fears that many people have, especially women. An intense read, it has much to say about the nature of truth, and how far we can trust others and our own perceptions of life.