If I'm honest this is a book that I'd never actually heard of before, although I had heard of the author; it was bought because on my home page on amazon as I'd bought something else apparently related to this book it was recommended to me. After clicking on it I had a quick read of the synopsis and was happy to see that you could buy it used with postage very cheaply.
The book is supposed to be a twist on your average fluffy chick lit yet still fit within the genre, because of the addition of the thriller side to it with some psychotic behaviour thrown in, making you realise the true extent of certain friendships! Alice is stuck in the hum drum of suburbia life, she's living with her boyfriend Tom, still keeps in touch with some of her uni friends and is struggling to break into the photography industry. While on a shoot she meets Gretchen and they become instant friends, injecting some much needed fun into her life. However Gretchen isn't all she seems, and when you put her brother into the mix it all gets very complicated.
I had very high expectations of this book after reading very positive reviews of it, both on amazon and also in the book itself on the first page. While I agree that it was good it wasn't exactly amazing and it did have its faults. The book starts with the end when Gretchen is in hospital, many questions are asked at this point and suggestions are made; after a few chapters taking turns between the hospital and the present day, it goes onto tell the story from the start then culminating in how it ends up at the hospital. I thought that this was a good way to structure the novel as it made you guess why it had happened throughout the book, analysing events to see if they were possibly the factor. There was also a fair few plot twists throughout the book, particularly right at the end, I was really rather shocked. However while there were some good plot twists, some were quite predictable. In addition to this, it was really quite short at around 250 pages and therefore there wasn't as much character development as there should have been. Mine was bought for £1.40 'like new' from amazon.
When Alice goes off to LA for a photo-shoot the last thing she expects is to come home with a new best friend. Her life has gotten fairly mundane of late and so when Alice meets Gretchen it's like a breath of fresh air has opened her eyes to fantastic new possibilities. Gretchen is like no one Alice has ever met before; she's beautiful and impulsive and Alice's life is suddenly sparkling again. But Gretchen isn't all she seems and there are ticking time bombs hidden below the surface just waiting to explode. When one of Gretchen's bombs do explode, it teaches Alice a lesson she will never forget about just how explosive female friendships can be.
A couple of years ago, I came across a book called His Other Lover, which is Lucy's debut novel. The blurb sounded incredibly intriguing but I wasn't too sure what I would think of it. I did however give it a read and I thought it was mind-blowing. It was a fairly short book but it managed to pack a lot into it's pages. It was a truly fantastic debut novel and it wasn't like anything I'd ever read before. It was dark, it was compulsive and I just plain old couldn't put it down. Of course, after reading His Other Lover I set about seeing if Lucy had any more books in the works and her second book What My Best Friend Did was released in 2009. It shocks me it's taken until 2010 to finally read it but I always worry that it won't match up to the previous book!
What My Best Friend Did starts off in quite shocking fashion. Alice is talking to an ambulance operator because something has happened to Gretchen, who we learn is Alice's best friend. Alice is frantic with worry over Gretchen and it immediately got me hooked. We then, as the book progresses, learn how it got to the point where Alice was in Gretchen's living room waiting for an ambulance to arrive. It's a very clever way of telling the story. We get a few chapters of the present and then a few chapters leading up to the event of the present with no indicators to tell you it's changing, not that it's hard to tell the difference, I must say! It also means that instead of having everything come out all at once, it's as if it's building to this big massive event and I just couldn't wait to get there to find out what it was.
I thought What My Best Friend Did was a little slow-going to start with (after the pacey opening chapters) but I was soon gripped and it got to the point where I just couldn't put it down. I think that's mainly down to how fantastic Lucy Dawson is at creating her characters. What My Best Friend Did is very character driven, it's the characters that drive the entire thing rather than the plot which is unusual but it works. Alice and Gretchen are like rubber and glue and yet somehow their friendship not only takes off on the pages but comes across incredibly realistically too to me, the reader. In Gretchen, Lucy has created a stunning character, she's hugely flawed but it's also so easy to see why Alice falls under her spell. Gretchen was, for me, the most realistic character of the bunch and she was fleshed out really really well. A lot is revealed about Gretchen as the book progresses and it all makes her more and more real in my mind. Don't get me wrong, I didn't like her, not at all, but she is the type of character who will stay with you long after you've finished the book.
In actual fact, none of the characters in What My Best Friend Did are in any way likeable. Not even Alice, our protagonist. Not really. And yet I still liked her; I can't explain it. She was a bit mean at points, downright nasty in others, but somehow she pulled me in and I did like her. Usually when I dislike a character, it feels as if I'm just tolerating them for the rest of the book. Not so with Alice. If you've read the book, you can probably see where I'm coming from. It's hard to explain in a review, it's more of a 'you have to read it to understand it'. Apart from Alice and Gretchen the only other two main main characters are Tom and Bailey, Tom who is Alice's ex and Bailey, Gretchen's brother. I don't feel we really got to know either men well enough for me to judge accurately but they both have their flaws, too. A lot goes on between Alice, Gretchen, Tom and Bailey and not all of it is particularly nice but I thought it was all unravelled and explained very well.
The ending of What My Best Friend Did is shocking. I saw a few of the revelations coming, but not the most important one of all. It made me re-evaluate everything I'd already learned about the characters and my opinions of them certainly changed. It was definitely a satisfactory revelation. It wasn't as if it was all built up and then fell flat, I thought it matched the rest of the book very well. My only problem was the actual ending itself, the last page in fact. I was expecting an epilogue of some sort because it just ended. I know that sometimes endings are a bit more open-ended but with such a strong book with such a dark undercurrent, there were lots of things left unfinished which is a shame.
Overall What My Best Friend Did is well worth reading. It truly was a stunning read despite my feelings over the last page of the book. Lucy Dawson is a fantastic writer and the quote from Louise Candlish saying that Lucy's style of chick lit is much darker than the norm is spot-on. I highly recommend both of Lucy's books and I eagerly await her third novel, due out later this year!
** Plot Summary....
Alice's life goes from boring to sparkling the minute she meets Gretchen, a gorgeous, funny and witty children's TV presenter. Within weeks of meeting Gretchen, Alice is convinced that she has out-grown her two year old relationship with her adoring boyfriend Nick, forgets all her old friends and cannot stop thinking about how wonderful Gretchen is. Things then become much more interesting for Alice when Gretchen introduces her to her handsome brother Bailey whom Alice Is convinced is what she needs to get her exciting life back.
Before long however, Alice realises she may have made the biggest mistake of her life meeting Gretchen. Their friendship is tested to the limit and Gretchen has so many secrets that it soon dawns on Alice that she had better regret the day she let this woman in to her life.
** My Review...
I actually thought on asking for this on readitswapit that I was going to get an easy-going fluffy "chick lit" book - how wrong I could be! Instead, I was pleasantly surprised by how dark this book got. The two main characters, Alice and Gretchen are not your usual main protagonists either. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that I didn't particularly care for either of them a great deal as their character flaws were so big it was hard to ignore. On the surface, Alice should be the one the reader sympathises with; it is from her point of view that we see what has happened and therefore the book would obviously lend itself to being in her corner. However, I didn't quite feel like that about her as I found overall she was selfish and superficial. There were times throughout the book where I did feel a twinge of sympathy for how wrong her life had gone since she had met Alice, but I still didn't really give two hoots about her!
This didn't stop me being curious about how things panned out, and actually I just found it more fascinating what was happening to her. Usually, when I don't particularly like the main character it would be hard to enjoy the book as it doesn't invoke the right emotions, but I found this was a tale of comeuppance, and one that Alice very well deserved.
On the other side of things, I felt that the author did a very good job of fleshing out the character of Gretchen; I could completely see why she was so captivating to Alice and I loved how manipulating she could be towards her also even if Alice was too stupid herself to see it. Gretchen's character Is unforgettable - her split personality ensures that the reader is engrossed with her latest antics throughout the story. Her character is conniving and convincing; the author gives Gretchen enough background and behavioural traits that she is fully three-dimensional and truly the strongest and most intriguing part of the book. This book literally turned itself as I waited with baited breath to see what new clever way Gretchen was going to force herself out of Alice's life. The story flowed naturally and there was nothing forced or unreal about Gretchen's behaviour, it was all, very creepily apparent that this could happen in real life!
It was also interesting to see how the men were portrayed in this book. This book is really character driven and this is made even more apparent by the lack of actual characters in the book. There are short appearances by Alice's friend Vick and her boyfriend, but the only two other characters in which we learn about is Nick, Alice's boyfriend and Bailey, Gretchen's brother. Both of these men are shown as almost inferior to Alice and Gretchen and I almost felt that their roles in this were unimportant to the whole scheme of things. Both characters seemed easily controlled by the two women which in itself made interesting reading and proved that Alice for all her proclaimed innocence is actually as selfish as Gretchen is shown to be.
The way in which the book is written is also superb. The first chapter shows Gretchen after a suicide attempt and Alice waiting anxiously at her side. With such a dramatic beginning, it was easy for me to get hooked into finding out what caused these events. Setting the scene in this way, and then flashing back to the past and the day that Alice met Gretchen was a great way of developing each character and each relationship. The present hospital situation was referred back to every couple of chapters and with it, another little twist to the tale, one that also made me want to read on as events appeared to be getting darker and darker.
I thought this story was extremely well executed. The main storyline is one that can easily be based in reality, the story is carefully unravelled and it is this subtlety that makes this book such interesting reading. What makes it so realistic is that it is easy to identify with the clever and subtle ways in which female relationships can sour. There is nothing fanciful about it, it really is a tale of how conniving females can be, how tempestuous and competitive their relationships can be with each other - and how women can easily manipulate men (at least some!) in to doing whatever they want! It was enjoyable looking at the female psyche, the way in which we react to each other and the clever ways in which events can take a terrible turn.
One thing I would say is that the cover deceives - this looks like a book which could be light and fluffy, but much like Gretchen, looks can be deceiving...
When I try a new author and am not impressed with their debut novels, I tend to ignore later releases because I don't want to waste time reading a book that isn't going to be any good. I know I should give them another try, but more often than not, I don't. However, when I was trying to choose a book to make up my '3 for 2' offer in Waterstones, my fiance picked this book up and said it looked like my sort of thing. I recognised the author straight away and almost dismissed it, but the title and blurb on the back grabbed my attention and I decided to give Lucy Dawson's work another go.
Photographer Alice is plodding along in her career and with live-in boyfriend Tom, but all that is about to change. When she goes on a photoshoot to LA, she meets TV presenter turned model Gretchen and is quickly swept up in the whirlwind that is Gretchen's life. The pair become close very quickly, but soon things start to change and Alice isn't too happy. Gretchen's secret is becoming more of a problem and she knows it isn't going to stay secret for much longer. How far will the pair go before there are devastating results that affect not only them but their loved ones too? And is Alice going to be able to stop Gretchen before its too late?
I really was not at all impressed with Dawson's first novel "His Other Lover" (see review!) - she had written weak characters, an unsatisfying story and a dreadful ending so I was hoping that things could only get better with her second offering. The plot was again a look at the darker side of relationships, this time a platonic friendship between 2 women who meet on a whim and form a friendship without really knowing each other. It had similarities with Dawson's first book in that there is a bit of a mystery running throughout, but luckily for me and Dawson's other readers, the writing, characters and story are far better and makes a really good read!
The book starts off with a pretty explosive start and left me totally hooked, eager to find out what had caused the circumstances that the book began in. I think this was a good device by Dawson, leaving us desperate to read more and I was also intrigued to read the background to the characters as well, especially Alice who was quite interesting. I really liked the lead character of Alice who started off as quite a normal woman happy with her boyfriend and business, but is changed a lot by her new friend. As the reader, we can see how Alice changes and the effect it has on all her relationships but she herself can't see it which makes the dynamic of the book interesting. I disliked Gretchen from the off, I can't put my finger on why but she just seemed very unlikeable and this worked well with likeable Alice, making the readers emotion stir up enough to keep reading.
There were really only 2 male characters in the book, Alice's boyfriend Tom who wasn't actually present in a lot of the book, and Gretchen's brother Bailey, a bit more a presence than Tom and another likeable person. Dawson has definitely improved with her character writing because all the characters were believable as people and helped the story develop in a good way which worked well in the scope of the story. The issues covered by the author regarding the characters are well tackled, and the relationships chop and change well with these problems, adapting as necessary and this was really well done by Dawson. Gretchen and Bailey's relationship is particular was quite touching and written with a real sensitivity of the situation and for this, Dawson deserves real praise.
The thing I enjoyed most about the book was the way the author has approached the telling of this story. It starts off with a shocking start, and this is slowly revealed as the book progresses through alternate chapter flashbacks and eventually leading up to the present. When Dawson took me back to the past, I was sometimes wishing she would hurry up a little and get to the crux of the issue so I could find out why it was all happening as it seemed to drag in parts but it soon picked up pace again when we sent back to the present time and Alice's dilemmas were being uncovered. Dawson really did keep me guessing, and there were quite a few twists and turns along the way that surprised me and I liked that Dawson was able to do that. I thought it was going to be predictable, but it certainly wasn't, and I really was guessing right up until the last few pages.
If you like "chick-lit" with a bit of a difference, then 'What My Best Friend Did' just might be the book for you. It is a vast improvement on the author's debut novel and I thoroughly enjoyed the read. For a novel, it is quite short at just under 300 pages but it is a packed book full of twists, turns and a really good story. I didn't want to put it down of an evening because I was desperate to find out what was going to happen next, and I think all credit is due to the author for this. I am pleased Lucy Dawson made such an improvement in this book, and it really is such a good read I would most definitely recommend it to anyone who is a fan of the genre, you'll be gripped!
ISBN: 978-0751540512. Published by Sphere in March 2009. The paperback edition contains 288 pages.
Author information: http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/d/lucy-dawson/
Thank you for reading!