The Book of You by Claire Kendal

The Book of You: A NovelThe Book of You: A Novel by Claire Kendal

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

First off: While I have tried to avoid spoilers, this review has more information about the plot of the novel than I usually include. This is because the reasons for my critique are difficult to discuss without going into some detail about the story itself.
I had high expectations when I started Claire Kendal’s debut thriller, The Book of You. Promotions compare it to Into the Darkest Corner and Before I Go To Sleep (both of which I enjoyed immensely) and also The Silent Wife (which for me, was a complete bust).
After months of developing perhaps unrealistic hopes for The Book of You, I found it to be a perplexing, underwhelming read.
The Book of You follows Clarissa, a young, sylphlike, ultra-feminine woman, who is being stalked by a disgusting loser named Rafe. Whereas in Into the Darkest Corner, or in Killing Me Softly, the dangerous boyfriend is initially charismatic, sexy, and intelligent, in this novel, Rafe comes across as an unlikeable weirdo from the very beginning. His first intimate encounter with Clarissa is a bad one, and things just get worse from there.
The reader is introduced to the dynamics between Rafe and Clarissa part way into their story…and the fact that we meet Clarissa when she is already avoiding Rafe reduces the sense of building suspense. There is a sort of repetitive monotony to this tale, with Clarissa trudging through the bleak, unremitting snow of a wintery city, and receiving one after another vaguely threatening gifts from Rafe, which she duly catalogues as evidence to eventually turn in to the police.
For much of this story, I wondered, “where is this going?”
As a counterpoint to the primary narrative, Clarissa is serving as a juror on a six week trial dealing with alleged kidnapping and rape. Ding, ding! The trial mimics Clarissa’s experiences in ways so obvious that even she is aware of them. The trial, like Clarissa’s own life, seems to drag on monotonously, with Clarissa cataloguing the names of legal and forensic experts who she could use in her own defense (but which she never, apparently does) and pondering all the ways in which the trial imitates real life. (I realize this is an inaccurate statement, since the trial is also someone’s “real” life, but that is the way it seems to be presented in the novel.)
With all this going on, there is another character to add to the mix, a hunky fireman named Robert, who is Clarissa’s fellow juror. As a reader, I was confused as to how I was supposed to feel about Robert- and not confused in a good, suspenseful way. On the one hand, Clarissa falls for him hook, line, and sinker, but she also realizes that he says many of the same things to her that her stalker, Rafe, does. She notes that when Robert says these things, she doesn’t feel creeped out. It is unclear whether Clarissa’s realization is meant to show us that a)Robert is also a stalker and Clarissa just doesn’t get it, or b)romantic words are all in the delivery. On top of this, several people make comments to Clarissa, seemingly apropos of nothing, that they think something is “off” about Robert. I didn’t feel that Robert was presented as an especially likeable character, but neither did he seem to be a psychopath. I kept hoping that some other man-the nice barrister, the helpful fellow walking his dog in the park-would turn out to be Clarissa’s true love.
As a reader, I was unclear as to who I was supposed to root for, or what the author wanted this book to be. The constant references to bloody fairytales confused the issue still further. In the preface, the Kendal thanks her father for giving her her first book of fairytales, and her mother for teaching her to read. The sections of the book reference fairytales, and Clarissa is compared to a princess, while she ponders dark tales like Bluebeard and Sleeping Beauty.
I like Kendal’s idea, of exploring how fairytales echo real life themes of obsession, sex, and violence. But in The Book of You, I did not feel that she was able to work this concept into the story in a comprehensible way.
I have admiration for anyone who writes a novel, and in The Book of You, I have the sense that Claire Kendal really put her heart and soul into her work. She clearly has lots of good ideas, and she seemed to want to create more than a generic thriller. Unfortunately, The Book of You ended up being a confused mess, with flat pacing, rather than building suspense, characters who were hard to warm to, and explicit detail about S&M torture that made me feel sick without adding anything necessary to the story itself.
If you’re interested in stories about obsession or domestic abuse, I would recommend Killing Me Softly by Nicci French, Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes, Close Up by Esther Verhoef, The Bed I Made, by Lucie Whitehouse, or Darling Jim by Christian Moerk. All of these novels are amazing and unique, and will stay with you for a long time.

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