When artist Susie invites her old schoolfriends for a weekend reunion at her gorgeous French home, she tells herself that it's all about showing off her dream life. Now working as an artist and living with her hunky boyfriend Roman, Susie lost touch with Amanda, Izzy and Tamsin in the aftermath of a dark secret and as the reunion plans gather pace, it's clear that the repercussions of this are still very much alive despite the years that have passed.
In the beginning, the main character is Susie - as you might expect given that it's her who is organising the reunion in the first place. As it becomes increasingly obvious that the characters share a secret, they become equally important to the plot, although much of the narrative still revolves around Susie. Susie's chapters are in the first person while the others remain in the third person. All of the characters are extremely well developed and this increases as the women fill each other in on what's happened to them since they drifted apart.
The narrative flips between the past and present. This makes for an intriguing read as we meet the women as they are now and then slowly but surely uncover the backstory from their schooldays, leading up to the reveal of the secret that has been haunting them for years. I found this drip feeding of the story intriguing ... it's obvious that something happened and this is gradually hinted at as the modern day plot moves forward but isn't actually revealed until the last few chapters. This had me gripped as I really wanted to get to the end and find out what the big secret was. I actually read this book in two days, which is quite unusual for me as I tend to dip in and out of books rather than carrying on reading them avidly so this is a big testament to how good this book was.
Throughout the book, there is a strong theme relating to body image that almost forms a sub-plot. Back in their schooldays, they were extremely conscious of how they looked, to the point that one character still suffers from an eating disorder. This was well handled in my opinion.
This is the first book that I've read by Emily Barr but I will certainly be seeking out more of her work in the future. I really enjoyed this book and can thoroughly recommend it. I expected it to be quite chick lit but it runs deeper than this and is a more gritty read than you might expect from the plot synopsis.
This is a review of the book 'Out of my Depth' by Emily Barr. It starts off with the highly successful artist Susie, living in her beautiful French home who decides it's time 10 years from leaving school to invite the old gang to show them how well she's done.
***Now and then***
The book flits between the present and past at their all girls' school, their personalities and how they've changed over the years. The thin become fat and the fat become thin etc. Some have got families, some have got divorces. But everyone makes the effort to attend the reunion.
**What's the sub plot?**
You realise there is something being held back, about one of the friends, Tamsin. The story alludes early on to her mother's untimely death but you can't quite tell why the other friends haven't been very supportive over it.
***Who wants to tell the truth?****
As the story unravels, so does the guilt and the different ways each character deals with it. One wants to confess, one wants to hide it and one remains an innocent but knowing bystander whilst the victim of the malicious actions of some foolish teenagers is unaware of their wrongdoing until the end of the weekend.
***Don't try to guess what happens!***
I think Emily Barr keeps you guessing in this book, and even throws a few red herrings in with the storyline that keep you turning the pages at quite a frenzied pace.
***Sounds good, but...***
In the book, Suzie's boyfriend Roman sounds like a real handsome catch until you realise he's just a child and needs his girlfriend to mother him too, not my ideal relationship.
I liked the tension between Amanda (the drinker) and Patrick (the lazy), as husband and wife with two kids, they have a lot of problems in their relationship and neither of them wants to make the first move to sort it out. It was a complex number of issues which both are aware of but somehow just gets worse and worse during their weekend in France.
I wasn't sure why it was necessary to include the sub plot around the man who commissions paintings of his 'wife' but the woman in the pictures contacts Suzie to say she isn't his wife. It never gets cleared up, nor did I particularly care whether she was or wasn't his wife. If anything it just caused a distraction from the main action, the reunion.
The story touches on the issues around single parenting, alcohol abuse, career decisions, losing a child and drink driving so is quite issues-based.
**The final word***
I enjoyed reading this book and am rating it four out of five as it was very original, descriptive and unusual. I would recommend it to other people as something that won't totally challenge you but will keep you reading until you reach the end.
Have just finished Out of My Depth - what a terrible book! The characters are two dimensional, some of the storylines ridiculous, and it's all totally unbelievable. Not one of the characters is fleshed out enough that you actually care anything about them. The premise of the book is an interesting one, but it the character development is so plodding, particularly when the main characters are teenagers. The set ups for the teenage parts of the novel could be very interesting but neither the language or the girl's behaviour seems to be very authentic. They just don't talk to each other the way teenagers do - or did back in the 80s!! And the storyline about the woman in the painting - well, what was the point of that?! Filling pages, that's all. This book feels like the author submitted a good idea, then just churned out the rest of the book. Which is a pity, as the idea is an appealing one. Pity the characters are so bloody awful.
"Sleep-sabotagingly moreish" Nicely put I'd say!
This is another dabble of mine into the unknown, unknown author that is. I had never read a book by Emily Barr when I spotted this reduced to £2 in Morrisons last week.
I know we aren't meant to 'judge a book by its cover' but I can't help it, this cover is nicely designed and it looks like it should be a good book!
The story starts with Susie, a successful artist living in the French countryside with her perfect boyfriend. She decides off the top of her head to have a reunion weekend at her house with her three best friends from school; Amanda, Izzy and Tamsin. More than anything she wants to show off, she was the fat one who was unpopular with the boys, now she has a killer bod, live-in boyfriend and this gorgeous house!
She is looking forward to seeing Amanda and Izzy but only invited Tamsin to be polite; she lives in Australia now so obviously can't come to France just for the weekend! We don't know why Susie doesn't want to see Tamsin but all will be revealed (not in this review!)
We are taken to Amandas house in London next, she has all the money she could need but having been anorexic at school her eating disorder has gone the other way and she binge eats constantly, she is huge and on top of that an alcoholic.
It doesn't focus on Izzy or Tamsins stories separately like it does Susie and Amanda because as you will find out later in the book these two are central to the main plot.
The first time we meet Izzy and Tamsin is at the airport, all three of them are flying from Stansted and although they've changed, they recognise each other....just.
We are then taken back in time to the late 80's, early 90's; the girls time at Lodwell High School and Sixth Form. We can see from the flashbacks that things were very different then, Susie being the overweight one, Amanda being skinny, Tamsin the gawky teachers daughter and Izzy the girl everyone worshipped.
So what dark secret will come out? Does Susie want to get everyone together to confess?
You will find yourself unable to put this book down; the story is unpredictable and exciting.
It makes a change from the usual summer reads, there's more substance and grit to this one yet it's still set in the idyllic French countryside which makes a lovely backdrop as the drama unfolds.....
The story flips between the present day and their time at school with every chapter, don't worry though you won't get confused as each chapter from the past is titled 'Lodwells (and the year)' It's easy to follow but not too easy, I like to be challenged as I read and really have to pay attention, that way I feel I am totally immersed in the book and can turn off the outside world for a while and Emily Barr definitely achieves that with 'Out of my depth'.
Barr develops each character well though does focus somewhat on Susie and Amanda. Izzy is probably the most likeable of the gang as she dotes on her little boy and has given up everything for him. She also didn't play a main part in the 'secret' but still kept it for her best friends.
Amanda is a character I loathe, she seems to be at the centre of the trouble and driving your children to school drunk is as low as you can get! She doesn't show her husband any affection either.
Amanda's husband is quite likeable too; he doesn't take centre stage but is still involved albeit at arms length.
Tamsin is cold and detatched from the others which at first seems miserable but later turns out understandable.
Susie is a nice enough woman but she tries too hard to please everyone and I don't like that she is showing off to her old friends and trying to prove she'd better than them, she has her own secrets though.....
I like a book that keeps me turning the pages and this definitely does that, you don't know what will happen next and nobody can predict the ending.
I will definitely be on the look out for more of Emily Barrs books.
On a recent library visit I found myself rapidly grabbing about five books after reading only the first couple of lines on the back of the book. I'm not one of these people that spends ages deciding if to read a book or not - if the cover looks appealing and the first couple of lines of blurb on the back doesn't bore me then I'll happily take it without a second thought. The front cover and the description of Emily Barr's "Out of My Depth" caught my attention and seemed quite interesting, while clearly avoiding the typical romantic comedy style books that seem to prevail these days.
Emily Barr is quite a successful author, albeit one that I'd never heard of before. She previously wrote columns in both The Guardian and The Observer before she moved onto books. As far as I can tell she's released nine books in total, the first one was entitled "Backpack" and was released in 2001. "Out of My Depth" came later in 2006 and was her eighth novel. Headline Review have published all of her novels and her latest offering "The Sisterhood" was released in February 2008.
Susie is a successful artist living in the south of France with her gorgeous boyfriend Roman. They have a life of luxury and seem to have done very well for themselves. So Susie decides to invite her old school friends over to France for the weekend to see just how well she's done for herself in the past decade. However from a very easy start there seems to be a somewhat sinister ulterior motive for the reunion.
As the four old friends are finally reunited after years apart the weekend gets off to a good start despite the somewhat different turns they've all taken in their lives... but no one can seem to completely relax and most people seem to be hiding things below the surface. As time goes on we're indulged more and more by this sinister secret that seems to be hiding below the surface, until it can hide no more.
Susie is the main character through which most of the story is told. She's a successful artist living in France after being the somewhat plain girl back at high school yet she's still not had children. Susie's best friend back in high school was the beautiful blonde Amanda... yet she's not quite as beautiful and blonde. She seems to have the perfect life; she's got a rich husband, two lovely children and a life of luxury in London... yet she's a secret alcoholic that seems to be suffering from depression and takes both her anger and bitterness out on everyone.
Izzy was the girl at high school who had everything; guys falling in love with her and a wonderful dress sense. Yet since her marriage fell apart and she found herself as a single mum she seems to have really let herself go in the looks department and seems to have quite a hard life. Finally we have Tamsin who makes up the quartet and seems the most well adjusted, always the slightly odd one out at school she's been living in Australia and has matured into an attractive and stylish woman... who leaves the other girls looking a little plain.
I have to say I quite enjoyed this novel and found myself always reading a few extra pages each night in an attempt to reach the end and discover if the big secret was revealed. It took me just over a week to finish this book which is quite good for me; if I absolutely adore a book I'll finish it within about four days whereas if I'm not really enjoying a book I'll either give up or it'll take me a few weeks to finish it. So by me finishing this one in eight days it shows that it's really quite a good read and it was certainly quite addictive at times as well.
I really liked the character development in this book, although Susie was normally the narrator and Amanda did have a few chapters I was worried that I wouldn't really be able to identify with the other girls. However each character was developed in such a way that they almost became real and I could identify with them all individually, as well as feel certain emotions towards them. I genuinely liked Izzy and thought she seemed like a really nice lady, while Amanda irritated me with her anger and moods although at times I sympathised with her too.
Although the story is set in the present several chapters revert back to when the girl's were at school together which gives an insight into how they used to be and also allows the reader to see how they've developed. Their past lives are very important in the secret that's hinted at right from the first chapter. During each chapter when the girls are talking they'll often take about the past decade they've spent apart from each other which again allows you to see their development and see just how exactly they've changed since when they were at school.
The flashbacks that are depicted and indeed the whole chapters that are focused on when the girls were in the sixth form at school all fit into the novel effortlessly. I did at first find myself preferring chapters in the present but by the end of the novel I was eager to read a chapter from the past as this seemed to reveal more and more about this secret some of the girls shared. However the overall pace of the novel works really well and the constant referrals to the past mean that the story doesn't grow stagnant as it may have done had it focused on one weekend only.
What is also interesting to see is how the weekend together impacts on the rest of the girl's lives. It seems that it takes a reunion to really highlight cracks in relationships and secrets that the girls have been hiding from those closest to them. It did initially strike me as strange that a weekend in France could lead to a marriage almost ending but then when you think about it, sometimes it takes something like that to really shake things up and make you realise that things aren't right. In that way it's quite an honest novel that touches on various exterior issues.
I suppose I should mention this sinister secret a little, although I'm not going to give it away here in case you do decide to read the novel. This secret is a focus throughout the novel, it's the reason Susie holds the weekend and it's the one thing that still binds all the girls. It's also what motivated me to keep reading for much of the story. By about halfway through I could guess what the secret was but it's not until nearly the end that it's revealed which again enticed me to keep reading to find out the exact details. The book synopsis gives a good indicator:
"They each know that up until now they have been treading water - waiting for the inevitable moment when they have to face the truth. The question is, now that the time has come, who will sink and who will swim?"
Although not really an opinionated book Emily Barr does touch on several issues such as alcoholism and children. Two of the girls have children whereas two don't and distinctions are drawn between them throughout, as well as several arguments about the subject of having children. It's done in quite a subtle way that you don't really think the author is trying to make a point until you come to think back over what you've just read. Personal appearances also prevail in this book and the idea that people can change so much over time, nothing will last forever.
The only thing that disappointed me was the rather abrupt ending as there were a few storylines that I felt were left unresolved and left me wondering what had happened. I feel it would have been a much more satisfying ending had she done a further chapter that was set a few weeks or months in the future to let the reader know what had happened to each of the characters. I was left feeling a little short changed but then again the fact that I was disappointed it was over so soon may hint at just how much I did enjoy reading Emily Barr's Out of My Depth.
I'll certainly look out for further books by Emily Barr as I really enjoyed this one. I get quite bored reading continuous chic lit and this book gave me something different to that. If you like your average chic lit but want an air of mystery added in then I'd certainly give this a read.
Thanks for reading.
I recently was lucky enough to be sent 'The Sisterhood' by Emily Barr to review for www.thebookbag.co.uk. I enjoyed it so much that I was immediately on the look out for more books by this fantastic author and came across 'Out of my Depth' - I was not disappointed as this was another fabulous read!
Out of My Depth tells the story of four former school friends who meet up years later for a reunion. Right from the start the reader is aware that something dark and sinsiter occurred in their past which means that this reunion is never going to be easy - but this is at first only hinted at and gradually through the book the truth comes out. This really had me hooked right from the start!
All the women are now thirty two. Suzy, a successful artist is the one who instigates the reunion by inviting the others to her luxurious farmhouse in France. She is very surprised and also more than a bit nervous when everyone agrees to come. The others are Amanda, Isabelle and Tamsin. All have changed greatly since their school days and because of this they are like strangers to each other.
As the weekend progresses they reveal more and more of themselves to each other which in some ways makes them closer but in other ways makes them realise just how far apart they have grown. There is a deepening sense of disappointment that they no longer feel they can laugh and confide in each other the way they used to.
All four of the main characters are so well developed that immediately you start to feel for them and identify with them. They are not always likeable particularly Amanda who is a rather self centred verging on alcoholic housewife. You can understand her though and actually at times feel very sad for her too.
There are quite a few subtle themes within this book too. One is on the issue of children and raising children. Even though only two of the four women have children they all have strong ideas on childhood. The other three are all appalled at Amanda's child rearing strategy which involves packing her children off to as many extra curricular activities as can be fitted into a busy schedule. Their reaction though is counter balanced by Amanda's strong belief that she is providing the very best start for her children in an extremely competitive world.
Another theme is on weight and about all of the women's self images. During their school days, this was an issue for most of them and still is as they progress towards middle age. There are even sugestions of bullemia but what it ultimately shows, along with the excessive drinking of alcohol by some of them, that if you are not happy then these things affect you more. It lso demonstrates that being thin does not necessarily make you happy.
The book moves almost seamlessly between the present and events in the past. It's through these flashbacks that the reader gradually pieces together the dark secret which has been destroying three out of the four of them. Moving into the present, it seems that unless they confront this secret they will never be able to move forward, but they don't even all agree on this.
The novel has a brilliant building up of pace and tension and there is always an ever present sinister undertone which suggests that the weekend is not just going to be a pleasant catching up on everything reunion. The more I read this book, the more I could not put it down - I was well and truly sucked in! There's a quote on the back cover from Cosmopolitan which describes the book as 'sleep-sabotagingly moreish' and that is such an apt description. I just wanted to keep on reading and never mind things like sleep getting in the way!
This was the sort of book where the end came just too soon. I was disappointed because, although the ending was as good as the rest of the book (no spoilers here) I just did not want it to finish. I sort of felt lost and I wanted to know what happened after that weekend - maybe there'll be a sequel!
It's a fascinating look at waht happens when you meet up with people who once were friends and you no longer know and could quite possibly put you off attending any similar events yourself! I think Emily Barr displays very acute observations in her writing though which almost make you feel like you are there.
For me, this was almost a perfect novel with a powerful tense storyline and strong characters. I am very glad I read it and I strongly recommend it if it sounds like the sort of book you like. It's published by Headline, has 408 pages and the paperback has a RRP of £6.99.