THE TRUTH ABOUT HER
When Callie rents a beach cottage in Whitstable, she doesn’t expect for its owner to be glamorous influencer Vanessa Lowe.
Vanessa has it all. A beautiful home, a loyal husband, three perfect children, and a growing number of adoring online fans.
Callie has long admired her world from afar.
But when Vanessa invites her in, the closer Callie looks, the more she suspects that there’s more to Vanessa than meets the eye.
So when Vanessa’s son disappears, Callie must question everything she knows.
Is Vanessa a mother in despair? Or is she a woman who’ll do whatever it takes to cover up the cracks…
Annie Taylor is a freelance copywriter and writer. She has a BA in American Studies from the University of Birmingham and a Masters in English and American studies from Oxford. Her previous published works include Forget Me Not and Innocent or Guilty, under the name A.M. Taylor.
She currently lives in south London, where she divides her time between studying for her PhD in Creative Writing, and making stuff up in her head for books.
“It’s such a terrible shock. A gut-wrenching surprise. And yet it’s not.
That family. That mother. Those good looks, that house, three beautiful children. All that money.
If it was going to happen to anyone, it was going to happen to the Lowes, wasn’t it? You can’t be that golden for that long without a little of the shine starting to come off”
“I pull the car to a stop and stare out at the view in front of me. All the way from Gatwick the sky has been grey and low, a compressing monolithic sheath that has put the world on mute. But as I look out at the cabin in front of me, and the view beyond, I see the sea. It smashes and grabs at the shoreline, all that movement and unbridled freedom, showing off under the heavy, leaden sky”
“In summer I imagine the beach busy, swarming with visitors, but now all is silent, empty. The particular loneliness of the seaside in winter”
“How has she made friends so quickly? Rachel wonders at the rubber-ball resilience of small children. With age is meant to come wisdom, but as far as Rachel can tell, all it brings is an increased sense of fear and ever-growing anxiety, both of which are an anathema to making friends”
“I love historic buildings, don’t get me wrong, but that’s just what they are: history. We have to make our own present, our own future. Otherwise those who come after us won’t know what our reality looked like, how we lived, what we loved, the things we paid attention to, what was important to us-”
“Ever since the fifties there’s been some new thing that’s got parents worked up about their children, and how they’re going to turn out, and for the most part, they’ve all been fine”
“Isn’t that mostly what getting older is? Fooling everyone that you know what you’re doing. Fooling everyone that you’ve got it all together. Fooling everyone you’re having a good time”
“I came here, not to forget exactly, but to get away from the reflection of myself in the dirty mirror of my life in LA, and instead it’s been thrown right back at me, the glass in the mirror shattering around me, causing something so much worse than seven years’ bad luck”
“The death of a child – especially in such traumatic circumstances – can break even the most stable of parents. Can smash you apart, leaving behind something or someone completely unrecognizable. A jagged reflection in a ruined mirror”
“JJ doesn’t know what to do with himself. He doesn’t know what to do with everything he’s feeling – it needs somewhere to go, some way to release, but he’s terrified of himself, terrified of what damage he could do”
“She told you everything. Except her darkest secret”
This psychological thriller pushed just about every button designed to raise my blood pressure and get my hackles up, as it brought into sharp focus, a well structured and crafted storyline which is so relevant to the times in which we live.
Let me try and explain a little better, but not in too much detail, for fear of giving away too many ‘spoilers’…
This is the coming together of three unrelated and disparate individuals, who, when it boils down to it, have very little in common except that they are strong, independent adult females and covet the inevitable lure of social media. A story of what’s lurking under the surface of apparently picture-perfect lives, in an idyllic setting, where it transpires, there is plenty to hide.
Vanessa Lowe is, in her own mind, a successful entrepreneur, who is living the dream. A large house overlooking the Kent coastline, a successful architect, Justin, as her husband and three well mannered children, JJ who is thirteen, his younger sister Emma, and baby of the family three-year-old Matthew. Oh! and of course, she holds the accolade as a renowned Instagram influencer, as she continually documents her life and family on her channel.
Through their youngest offspring, who both attend the same nursery, Vanessa meets Rachel Donovan, her husband Tom, a university lecturer, and their children Sadie and her slightly older brother Marcus. By coincidence, Rachel used to be an online marketeer, so Vanessa, never one to miss a trick, immediately begins to cultivate a relationship with the new arrivals to the area. The next few months are a heady whirlwind for Rachel and her family, as Vanessa elevates their status and draws them into her inner circle. However, slowly but surely, Rachel begins to have doubts about Vanessa’s sincerity, their relationship quickly deteriorates into one of mistrust and online vitriol, with such devastating ramifications, that within sixteen months the Donovan family have been forced to move on to pastures new, somewhere without the Lowes interfering in their lives – or so they thought!
It is at this juncture and only shortly before Christmas, that Callie arrives in Whitstable, on a completely different mission. She is seeking only peace and solitude to aide her recovery from a terrible personal tragedy, which has left her bereft and unable to function properly. Unbeknown to her though, Vanessa and Justin are the owners of the beachside chalet she is renting, so when she tracks Vanessa down to thank her for their kind touches around the place, she is next in line to be instantly taken under their wing, thus beginning a tentative friendship, with which Callie is far from comfortable, if truth be told. Callie quickly begins to witness the cracks in Vanessa’s perfect online persona and her family dynamics, which are in obvious freefall, but which she doesn’t seem to notice or be concerned about.
Within just a few short days of her arrival, Callie already has suspicions that all is not well in the Lowe household and has decided to give the family a wide berth, as Vanessa’s strange behaviour and her thoughts about what might be happening behind closed doors, are just to much for her to bear. Everything changes when Vanessa’s youngest child Matthew, goes missing and a huge police search gets underway. Callie has by now set in motion plans to visit her mother, as trying to deal with her grief and tragedy alone, isn’t working as well as she thought it might have. She is however, inevitably drawn into Matthew’s disappearance, although when Vanessa begins throwing accusations around, she almost wishes she hadn’t bothered. Callie finds herself helping the police with their enquiries, which means that she isn’t allowed to leave the area, and it is then that Vanessa reveals her true personality and just how venomous she can be. Rachel is once again viciously targeted online and Callie finds herself being manipulated against her better judgement.
Vanessa’s mental health begins to deteriorate exponentially, to the point where she loses touch with reality and any sense of reason. But can that all be blamed on grief? The police clearly think not and Christmas sees things manifest in a way no one could have dreamt of in their worst nightmares. However, the final sting in the tail is of gut-wrenching proportions, showing a father up for his weaknesses, failings and apathy in protecting his family and standing up for what he knows is right. Is it too late for him to amend for some of those many wrongs and is there a glimmer of hope left for the survival and new beginnings of a much smaller Lowe family unit?
OMG! Having read that mini resume over so many times, no matter how I tweak the words, it doesn’t even begin to touch the sides of this multi-layered storyline and its cast of multi-faceted characters.
Author Annie Taylor brought this storyline right up to date, shining the bright light of day onto some of the social and moral issues we all know exist, but which are seldom the subject for public self-examination. The perils and destructive nature of social media were examined under the microscope, specifically the way in which lives and reputations can be destroyed by malicious online trolling and abuse. The way in which adults can obtain instant self-gratification and kudos amongst their like-minded friends and followers, by holding their family, lifestyle and most intimate moments up for public view, often without their knowledge or consent. The physically coercive, emotionally controlling and gaslighting behaviour of one stronger person over more vulnerable individuals, often whilst others who have suspicions about such behaviours, weakly and rather cowardly in my opinion, choose to close their eyes and cover their ears to what is going on around them, then decide to step in too late to try and prevent the inevitable and often fatal consequences. The physical and emotional pain of sudden, unexpected loss, with the traumatic yet often unseen psychological impact such a life-changing event can inflict on those left behind. The sheer abject terror of a minor trying to protect and care for those more vulnerable than themselves, without really understanding the potential implications or consequences of their actions.
The narrative was presented in dual timeline, with a past which began sixteen months previously and unfolded in one month segments until it converged with the second storyline of the present day. The short chapters meant that the switch between the two stories was seamless and relatively easy to follow, until about half way through the book, when chapter headings alternated between muddled and non-existent, making the second half much more difficult to keep a track of, until things straightened themselves out again towards the end. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that my enjoyment was sightly tempered by this unexpected presentation, however, at that point, I did decide that for me, four stars was going to be more appropriate than five.
The multi-layered storyline was powerful, well-paced, highly textured and intense. The cut-it-with-a-knife atmosphere, for the most part was desperately cloying and claustrophobic, yet totally immersive. The tension mounted exponentially, and there was not a single facet of this storyline which was simple or uncomplicated, as more and more clues were drip-fed into the narrative little by little. Nothing was quite as it seemed and the twists and turns just kept on coming – and I mean right to the very end, complicating the tangled web of lies and secrets which overlaid everything, until I just didn’t know who to believe any more. In fact, there was more than one single crime, and whilst my original guess at the identity of one of the perpetrators turned out to be correct, that didn’t make a shred of difference, as the suspense was maintained right up to the turn of that last page, with the final couple of chapters delivering the gut-punch I never saw coming, turning everything on its head and bringing my heart into my throat, filling me with sadness and anger in equal measure.
Annie created a small group of addictive, well defined characters, who, whether I chose to love or hate them, were all genuinely believable and authentic to the roles in which they had been cast. Complex emotions and raw passion, made them vulnerable, unreliable and volatile. There were no laugh-out-loud moments in this rather lugubrious, yet compulsive storyline and I felt no sense of personal connection with any one individual, as they wore their facades of social media activity like cloaks of invisibility, behind which to hide. You never know what goes on behind closed doors!
Although location wasn’t the highest priority of this storyline, with place names which were real and easily tracked (I do remember Margate from childhood family holidays), the armchair traveller in me was perfectly satisfied with my journey to the Kent coast, with the sights, sounds and smells of the physical location teasing me into a real sense of time and place that I could almost step into and an atmosphere which lingered long after I had closed the final page. Just don’t assume anything is over, until it’s over!
A complimentary kindle download of this book for review, was made available by publisher Michael Joseph, Penguin Random House and supplied by NetGalley.
Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion, and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.
I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However, some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a well-deserved 4 out of 5 stars!
Thank you for taking the time to read my review, I appreciate your support.
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