“Bo Luxton has it all—a loving family, a beautiful home in the Lake District, and a clutch of bestselling books to her name. Enter Alice Dark, an aspiring writer who is drifting through life, with a series of dead-end jobs and a freeloading boyfriend. When they meet at a writers’ retreat, the chemistry is instant, and a sinister relationship develops. Or does it?”
Deliciously dark Exquisite opens as we meet 40-year-old Bo, successful top-selling novelist. She is living every writers dream with her beautiful house in the serene Lake District with her husband and two kids. Bo is content with her life. Her marriage is comfortable, like an old jumper and Bo alludes to coveting a more exciting relationship. Sifting through applications for a creative writing course she tutors at, Bo comes across an application that is raw and powerfully evocative and feels an instant connection to the writer. In the second chapter we meet Alice, 15 years Bo’s junior, talented and troubled. Struggling writer Alice has applied to a creative writing course and is surprised when she receives a letter offering her a place with Bo as her tutor. Sparks fly when these two creative women meet, the chemistry undeniable and they embark on an affair. What follows is a compelling account of what happens when lust and infatuation turn into obsession.
Breathtakingly intense, Exquisite seduced me after the first couple of pages and I finished the book in one sitting. Both narrators are unreliable, and as the relationship develops I found myself questioning each of the characters account. Each character misinterpreting the others behaviour to fit their needs. At times I even questioned if the relationship existed at all, or if it were the mere fantasy of one of them, made up in their head.
This is not a romance novel but a dark psychological thriller and a masterclass in the art of manipulation and Bo is aware of the hold she has over Alice;
“I knew the effect I was having on this young woman. I made sure our eyes met as we spoke and could see her, wide eyed and attentive, and in my thrall: I was the older, wiser writer who was telling her, right here, right now, that she was brilliant.”
At the start I wanted to like Bo, but there was something about her I just couldn’t trust. I felt with her being older than Alice she should have been wiser and behaved more responsibly. Alice appealed instantly to my maternal instincts and I found her easy to empathise with and more engaging as a character.
The lyrical prose is what takes this novel from run of the mill to something that is for want of a better word, exquisite. Stovell has eloquently created a book that is dark and atmospheric with sinister undertones throughout. I highly recommend this to fans of psychological thriller and domestic noir. Thanks to Sarah Stovell and Orenda Books for the advanced review copy.