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Author: Lisa Jewell
Publisher: Century (Penguin Random House)

It all begins with an impulsive decision.

Podcaster Alix Summer has an accidental meeting with a woman who is her “birthday twin”, and also shares other elements of her past. When the other woman, Josie Fair, urges Alix to make a podcast about their common backgrounds, Alix agrees.

But, as she delves further into Josie’s story, Alix is torn between regret at her decision and the desire to uncover the truth. Josie’s relationships with her husband, mother and children seem chaotic, disturbing and intriguing. It’s the intrigue that sustains Alix as she pursues the truth about Jodie’s life.

As she plunges deeper, Alix is forced to question the strength of her own marriage. And as her fascination with Josie‘s story escalates, so too does her anxiety at its increasing intrusion in her own life.

In seeking the truth, she discovers some facts that seem too terrible to believe. Is she uncovering abuse? violence? excessive control? excessive neglect?

This is bestselling novelist Jewell once more at her best: combining psychological realism with a relentlessly paced plot. The plot is embedded, as the best plots should be, in the actions and motivations of her full cast of characters. No minor character has found their way into this novel accidentally.

Jewell’s skilful use of the subjective third person narrator enables her to bury her characters’ motivations deep – until they can no longer be hidden.

There is a ring of veracity about this story, given its structure as well as its characterisation. In addition to the narrative that centres on each of the two women in turn, there are transcripts of the podcast, and from a Netflix documentary series on its making.

The most realistic element of this novel, however, is its underlying theme: that the truth is subjective, and sometimes much too hard to bear.