Louise Candlish is a thoroughly contemporary author.

In this, her ninth book, she explores the awful impact of trial by media after a woman’s adultery leads to tragedy.

I was really looking forward to reading this, having previously read and enjoyed Candlish’s later novels, ‘The Swimming Pool‘ and ‘The Sudden departure of the Frasers’, and I wasn’t disappointed. Suspicion, obsession, vengeance, spite, social media and mental health problems combine in this very modern story to create a compelling tale of suburban adultery gone horribly wrong.

What’s it about?

Unusually for me, I’m going to pinch the blurb here, as it does quite a good job of setting up the storyline:

When Emily Marr begins an affair with her married neighbour, the celebrated surgeon Arthur Woodhall, she has no idea of the tragedy and scandal their actions will cause. With shattering speed, she becomes the object of a media witchhunt, her only choice to change her identity and vanish.

Soon after, Tabby Dewhurst arrives on the Ile de Ré in France, estranged from her family and unable to afford even a room for the night. By chance, she meets Emmie Mason, whose offer of friendship is at odds with her obsession with privacy. As Tabby sinks deeper into Emmie’s strange, hidden world, she begins to form suspicions – suspicions that will lead her back to England and to a revelation so shocking she must question everything she knows.

What’s it like?

Intriguing. Well-crafted. Topical.

Though neither Emily nor Tabby are especially likeable, their tales are interesting and ultimately come together to create a devastating juxtaposition.

Emily is forced to perform a vanishing act, buried under mountains of condemnatory newsprint and dirty comments on social media, compared to child killers and serial poisoners on the basis that she had an affair with a married man that led to tragic consequences.

Meanwhile, Tabby engages in her own affair with a married man, which also ultimately has tragic consequences, though admittedly Tabby is not quite as implicated in the fall-out as Emily was. Luckily, she has no spiteful journalist neighbour poised and eager to turn her into a national hate figure. (It seems that if you’re going to have an affair with a married man, you’d better live in France than England.)

While Emmie is obsessed with privacy, Tabby is a profligate intruder, investigating every nook and cranny in the houses she is paid to clean, and opening any drawer or file marked ‘prive’. Inevitably, Emmie’s secrets begin to seep out of her, but how will Tabby handle the consequences?

The ending

The version of the book I read has an epilogue. This is worth mentioning because I was puzzled by a couple of comments I spotted on Goodreads reviews shortly after I finished the book, bewailing the lack of a proper ending. ‘It just ends!’ they complained. ‘We never find out what happened to xxx’. But we do! I thought. It’s in the epilogue!

Having done a little more reading around, it seems that when the book was originally published, it did not include an epilogue and, instead, Candlish invited readers to email her to find out what happened to one of the characters! The fact that the book I read does include an epilogue suggests that this idea may not have suited the majority of readers. Indeed, I can imagine myself feeling distinctly less satisfied with the book as a whole if I had read it without that final chapter.

I understand Candlish’s comment that, in real life, there would likely have been no answers, but ultimately, while we may read fiction that follows most rules of ‘real-life’, we also, mostly, crave the comfort of an ending, a resolution, of the clarity and finality that only fiction can provide. So if you spot this story for sale second-hand, you might like to check quickly that it has an epilogue!

Final thoughts

As always, Louise Candlish’s narrative is subtly gripping, keeping you turning the pages to find out how the relationships she writes about will develop, switching regularly between third person narrator Emily and first person narrator Tabby. This could easily keep you up half the night, not because of any clunky cliffhangers, but because the precisely written prose keeps you quietly hooked on the unfolding drama. That’s not to say there aren’t some twists and turns that might surprise you, but this is a story you can read for the pleasure of the whole.

‘the disappearance of emily marr’,
Louise Candlish,
2018, Sphere, paperback