Blog Tour/Book Review: The Body Lies by Jo Baker

The Body Lies BT Poster

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.

The Body LiesAbout 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

Purchase Links*  ǀ (supporting UK bookshops)
*links provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme

Find The Body Lies on Goodreads

My Review

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.

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In three words: Intriguing, clever, literary

Try something similar…Exquisite by Sarah Stovell (read my review here)

JoBakerAbout 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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Blog Tour/Book Review: Call Me Star Girl by Louise Beech

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Call Me Star Girl, the latest novel by Louise Beech.

My thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the tour and to Orenda Books for my review copy.  You can read my review below.

Call Me Star GirlAbout the Book

Tonight is the night for secrets…

Pregnant Victoria Valbon was brutally murdered in an alley three weeks ago – and her killer hasn’t been caught.

Tonight is Stella McKeever’s final radio show. The theme is secrets. You tell her yours, and she’ll share some of hers.

Stella might tell you about Tom, a boyfriend who likes to play games, about the mother who abandoned her, now back after twelve years. She might tell you about the perfume bottle with the star-shaped stopper, or about her father …

What Stella really wants to know is more about the mysterious man calling the station … who says he knows who killed Victoria, and has proof.

Tonight is the night for secrets, and Stella wants to know everything…

With echoes of the chilling Play Misty for Me, Call Me Star Girl is a taut, emotive and all-consuming psychological thriller that plays on our deepest fears, providing a stark reminder that stirring up dark secrets from the past can be deadly…

Format: Paperback (300 pp.)    Publisher: Orenda Books
Published: 18th April 2019 Genre: Fiction, Thriller

Purchase Links*  ǀ (supporting UK bookshops)
*links provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme

Find Call Me Star Girl on Goodreads

My Review

I’ve seen so many other book bloggers heaping praise on Louise Beech’s latest book that I’m pleased to have had the opportunity finally to experience it for myself. I know her pedigree as a writer from her earlier book, Maria in the Moon, which I really loved, and I have several of her other books in my TBR pile.

Call Me Star Girl oozes atmosphere from the very first page. This is a book where your review has definitely to be more about how the book made you feel than what it’s about both for fear of giving anything away or of spoiling the sheer experience of reading it for others. In the author’s skilful hands, the reader is taken on an emotional journey that is, at times, unsettling, chilling and full of twists and turns.

Events unfold over one night during Stella’s last shift at a community radio station. It’s late at night and for much of the time she’s alone in the building with only callers to the station providing any human contact. The narrative is interspersed with chapters from the point of view of Stella and her mother, Elizabeth, going back and forth in time to chart their troubled relationship, and between Stella and her boyfriend, Tom. I confess some of the latter felt voyeuristic in a way I found quite unsettling.

I loved that Louise Beech chose once again to use Hull as the setting for her book. I also enjoyed the occasional references to the nature of fiction, reminding the reader that you should not necessarily believe everything you’re told. And there’s room for a couple in jokes as well. At one point the young Stella, after recounting a story she’s written at school, is told she should write mystery novels when she grows up. Earlier, in response to the use of the pet name ‘Star Girl’ by her mother, Stella says, “We just need a killer twist and a cliffhanger ending, and we could have a bestseller called Star Girl“.

Call Me Star Girl is a dark, intense story of desire, control and secrets. It poses the question what would you do, how far would you go, what risk would you incur for the one you love?

I received a review copy courtesy of publishers, Orenda Books, and Random Things Tours.

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In three words: Dark, intense, compelling

Louise Beech Author PhotoAbout the Author

Louise Beech is an exceptional literary talent, whose debut novel How To Be Brave was a Guardian Readers’ Choice for 2015. The follow-up, The Mountain in My Shoe was shortlisted for Not the Booker Prize. Both of her previous books Maria in the Moon and The Lion Tamer Who Lost were widely reviewed, critically acclaimed and number-one bestsellers on Kindle. The Lion Tamer Who Lost was shortlisted for the RNA Most Popular Romantic Novel Award in 2019. Her short fiction has won the Glass Woman Prize, the Eric Hoffer Award for Prose, and the Aesthetica Creative Works competition, as well as shortlisting for the Bridport Prize twice.

Louise lives with her husband on the outskirts of Hull, and loves her job as a Front of House Usher at Hull Truck Theatre, where her first play was performed in 2012.

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