Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Body Lies by Jo Baker. Thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for inviting me to participate in the tour and to Doubleday for my review copy.
About the Book
When a young writer accepts a job at a university in the remote countryside, it’s meant to be a fresh start, away from the big city and the scene of a violent assault she’s desperate to forget. But when one of her students starts sending in chapters from his novel that blur the lines between fiction and reality, the professor recognises herself as the main character in his book – and he has written her a horrific fate.
Will she be able to stop life imitating art before it’s too late?
At once a breathless battle-of-wits and a disarming exploration of sexual politics, The Body Lies is an essential book for our times.
Format: Hardcover, ebook (288 pp.) Publisher: Doubleday
Published: 13th June 2019 Genre: Thriller
Find The Body Lies on Goodreads
When I reviewed Jo Baker’s book A Country Road, A Tree (shortlisted for The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction 2017), I described it as ‘clever, literary and powerful’. I feel the same adjectives can be applied to The Body Lies, the author’s foray into the psychological thriller genre but a book which still retains a distinctly literary feel.
Perhaps it’s brave (or maybe a sign of confidence in one’s ability) to write a novel in which the main character is leading a creative writing MA course and lecturing on the craft of writing. Our narrator, a debut novelist, certainly wonders about her qualification for the task. ‘I’d been appointed to teach students how to write novels. It felt rather like asking someone who’d once crash-landed a light aircraft to train people as commercial pilots.’ However, I reckon the author must have had fun creating the extracts from the work the students submit for critique as part of their course, ranging in genre as they do from hard-boiled crime to fantasy, short stories and something altogether more disturbing.
The Body Lies starts with a description of the body of a young woman so I gave a little chuckle when the critique the students give on the crime novel one of them, Steven, is writing focuses on that same aspect. “First thought is,” Nick said, one thumbnail still scraping at the other, “does it have to start with a dead woman?” “Well, that’s how these stories work,” Steven said. “That’s the story engine that powers the novel, so yeah, it does really.” Steven is criticised for using the dead girl merely as a device. Interestingly, the reader never learns the name of the protagonist of The Body Lies as if that aspect of her identity is not important. (The main character in A Country Road, A Tree was also unnamed, although in that book was easily identifiable as Samuel Beckett.)
The depiction of women in fiction is just one of the aspects of the position of women explored in The Body Lies. From practical issues, such as the pressure of balancing childcare and work, to, as the narrator sees it, men’s ‘sense of entitlement to a woman’s attention, and her body’, the latter powerfully played out in the opening chapter. And along the way, the book also explores topics such as the need for trigger warnings, safeguarding, student mental health and the pressure of workloads and course retention targets on staff in academic institutions.
It’s not all serious though and I really enjoyed the playful humour I detected. For example, at one point, in response to the narrator’s concern about the work submitted by one of her students, her colleague, Mina, replies, “He’s probably playing some tricksy postmodern game.” Expressing her concern the student might drop out, Patrick, another colleague, asks her, “He’s the real deal then?” She replies, “Yeah, I think he probably is.” Patrick responds, “Well, then he’ll write it anyway, won’t he, MA or no MA.” (I can imagine Will Self nodding in agreement at that point.)
Fans of the genre can rest assured The Body Lies incorporates many of the familiar characteristics of a psychological thriller. There’s a creepy and possibly unbalanced individual with an unhealthy obsession. The narrator and her young son find themselves renting a house in a remote, isolated location which also happens to be in a mobile phone black spot. Initially, she’s not worried and reflects ‘I rather liked being unreachable.’ That’s probably going to change, I’m sure you’re thinking. Too right. There are scenes in the book that will definitely make you want to check you’ve locked your doors. The observant reader may note a passing reference to an event the significance of which will only become apparent towards the end of the book. (No doubt the sort of advice about plot construction you’d expect a creative writing group to give.)
If this review is making you wonder if The Body Lies is just too clever and whether it actually works as a psychological thriller, I can reassure you it definitely does. There is tension, drama and sense of jeopardy aplenty as the book reaches it eventful conclusion. As everything slots into place, I can’t do better than echo the words of our unnamed narrator: ‘That’s how stories work: there’s something instinctively satisfying about circularity.’ This reader was definitely satisfied and can’t wait to see what Jo Baker writes next.
I received a review copy courtesy of publishers, Doubleday, and NetGalley.
In three words: Intriguing, clever, literary
Try something similar…Exquisite by Sarah Stovell (read my review here)
About the Author
Jo Baker is the author of the acclaimed and bestselling Longbourn and A Country Road, A Tree. Her new novel, The Body Lies, is a thrilling contemporary novel that explores violence against women in fiction but is also a disarming story of sexual politics.
Jo Baker lives with her family in Lancashire.
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