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It's rare to find a great novel that has received almost no attention, but Too Close is amazingly good. It is a novel of extremely dark humor, although the publisher has tried to market it as some kind of thriller, which is odd since there is very little mystery. If anything, it is more a contemporary horror story, but it is moving and often very funny. Author Natalie Daniels (a pen name for Clara Salaman) is British, and some of the humor may require some familiarity with contemporary British life. It is being made into a British TV drama for broadcast in 2020.
There are two main characters, who are played by Salaman and Sara Stewart in the wonderful performance of the audiobook. Connie is the joker, with biting wit about her own tragedy. She is a wife and mother whose life has come to a terrible point. She is hospitalized in a psychiatric ward, and she has committed a terrible action. She is writing to the reader, reflecting on her life. Since she has amnesia, her account is fragmentary and the complete explanation of her action takes some time for her to piece together. The other main character is Emma Robinson, who is Connie's psychiatrist, who has the job of assessing Connie. Emma is a far more sober character, and her life is more steady, but as we find out about both women, we see how they share worries about marriage and happiness. Both of them have secrets.
The book has a lot of plot, and it unfolds jumping back and forth in time and switching narrators, so it takes some focus. Connie is a writer, and she has two kids, Annie and Josh, with her husband, who she calls the Weazel. Connie is a smart, self-deprecating and compassionate writer of her own story, We also get some of Annie's diaries, and these are an excuse for some slapstick silliness that lightens the mood considerably. We see that Connie has lost everything in her life, and she maintains a high energy and defiant tone despite this. Emma the forensic psychiatrist is much more glum, but she is good at probing Connie's defences in their sessions. It turns out that Connie is equally good at seeing through Emma's defenses, so both women are revealed for who they are by the end of the novel.
One issue with the story is that the psychiatry seems shaky. Connie's amnesic symptoms are implausible, and the interactions between Connie and Emma would probably never happen in the real world. These seem more like plot devices than a reflection on the mental health industry. There is also a lot of drama in the story, which is also there to keep the reader's interest. But underneath these parts, there is a truth about relationships in the modern world that rings true. Too Close is a book with a good deal to say about the difficulties of marriage and the experience of parenthood.
© 2019 Christian Perring
Christian Perring teaches in NYC.
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