It's summer, and school teacher Suzanne is renting a cabin by a lake. Spending her days reading and swimming, she also finds time to engage in some old fashioned letter writing with a stranger who responded to a personal ad she placed. He's currently an inmate at the state penitentiary, but Suzanne's not one to judge, and agrees to give their correspondence a shot. Then she finds out what he's in for - and it's not pretty. Breville is a convicted thief and rapist, and Suzanne herself was raped as a teenager, by a friend's brother. That should be the end of it: any sensible person would cut off all communication and turn their back on the situation. But Suzanne is different and though she's acknowledges that it might not be the healthiest of relationships, she maintains the back and forth with Breville.
Suzanne is not your stereotypical victim. She's a rather pragmatic survivor who looks for ways to deal with her past. For example, rather than shun all men, she simply goes after those with dark hair, her rapist having been blonde. She is attracted to Breville in part for his honesty, and in part for his genuine desire to atone for his deeds. She is insightful and open and encourages her pen-pal to be the same.
This is a really intriguing book. The writing style is somewhat detached, perhaps a metaphor for Suzanne's reaction to what happened. It is a good read because it is interesting and full of the unexpected. The start is very immediate and intriguing but pages later on lost hold of my attention at times. The story moves on at a reasonable pace, with Suzanne and Breville's relationship moving from paper to person as she goes to visit him in prison, but for me nothing topped that initial reaction to the first letter she received and her realization of who and what she had attracted through her advert.
There is an acute level of detail in the book, and every reference seems purposeful and of importance, though Breville's name constantly conjured up pictures of irons and toasters and kettles in my head, momentarily distracting me from the man and the mystery.
Though sex crimes and incarceration are hardly laugh-a-minute topics, the author manages to weave in some humour in a measured and appropriate way. That said, it is a darker book than I am used to, and some readers might find it too extreme for their tastes. Even with the summery setting, I thought this was a brooding, atmospheric book, and reading it outside in the sunshine felt wrong, as would, I imagine, cracking it open on the beach or by a pool.
I score it quite highly as I have never read anything quite like it, but it's not one I would want to re-read. It's a book that requires concentration and dedication, and for that reason I would recommend choosing your location carefully before dipping into it.
This review first appeared on The Bookbag.