by Tara Guha
For the third time this week he is watching her scream.
Watching, not listening.
Rebecca Laurence is centre stage and shining in her role as Ophelia. She pivots, rotating like a ballerina impaled in a musical box, red hair cascading down her back.
Amidst the thundering applause, one man is watching. Rebecca meets the charismatic Seth Gardner, and as attraction grows between them, he invites her to join his Friday Folly, a group of artistic friends. But as Rebecca is drawn into the web of tangled relationships all is not as it appears. The scene is set for the night that will rip the group apart.
Consumed by loss and surrounded by secrets, Rebecca must escape the grip of the Folly to have any chance of saving herself. Meanwhile, one man continues to watch.
Seth Gardner, charismatic, rich and beguiling, holds sway over a group of hand-chosen friends. Hand-chosen for their susceptibilities, their weak-spots and their desires, that ultimately hand him control of their lives. But Seth is not some one-dimensional control freak; far from it. He is a deeply complex character who is caring and generous to his friends, often saving them from themselves. But he has a background that leaves him as vulnerable and unstable as a lost child. All of this means that you can see why they fall over themselves to be the most important person in his life.
The book opens with Seth becoming entranced by Rebecca, an actress playing the role of Ophelia in Hamlet. He persuades her to join his Friday Folly group, where arts and literature are given free rein, along with copious amounts of alcohol.
The other members of the group are; Catherine, a shy pianist with no confidence who prefers to be regarded as the hired help than be thrust into the limelight. Michael; principled school teacher from the North, uncomfortable with the opulence of Seth’s lifestyle and decadence. Jose; a rent boy with a dream. Anna; likes dressing up and drinking. Charles; a friend of Seth’s from Cambridge. Jake; cockney wide-boy who can cook. All very different people, but all hold pivotal roles in the story.
The structure of the book is highly original, instead of chapters we have acts and scenes. Some parts of the book are set out as dialogue in a play with the characters even addressing the audience. Given the references to Hamlet and Oedipus it is very apt.
From the start we are aware that something awful has happened because the scenes are interspersed by police interviews with members of the group. These scenes give us the background to the characters and brilliant insights into their rivalries.
As the book unfolds, and a night of shocking revelation, the dynamics of the group crack and split, leaving all the characters reeling in one way or another.
This is a brilliant portrayal of friendships; the glue that holds them and the secrets that rip them apart. The characters are completely believable and fascinating. The author does brilliantly well to create, and hold, the air of tension and brooding foreboding throughout the book.
The writing in the book is astonishing; prose that has you melting as you read. I was spellbound from the first page and as the pages left got fewer and fewer my reading got slower as I didn’t want to say goodbye to the characters or the sumptuous prose.
This is one fantastic debut novel. An intelligent, gripping, thought-provoking psychological thriller that deserves to be a major success. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Many thanks to Legend Press for sending me a copy.
Copies of Untouchable Things can be purchased via the link here