I really wanted to post this review rather sooner – as part of Anne Goodwin’s excellent blog tour – but the wifi in Madeira just didn’t like my blog one bit. And since I returned… well, let’s just say that life’s been a little busy. But I really did want to share my delight with this highly unusual and compelling read: Underneath was published on 25th May by Inspired Quill, and is available in paperback and for kindle.
He never intended to be a jailer …
After years of travelling, responsible to no-one but himself, Steve has resolved to settle down. He gets a job, buys a house and persuades Liesel to move in with him.
Life’s perfect, until Liesel delivers her ultimatum: if he won’t agree to start a family, she’ll have to leave. He can’t bear to lose her, but how can he face the prospect of fatherhood when he has no idea what being a father means? If he could somehow make her stay, he wouldn’t have to choose … and it would be a shame not to make use of the cellar.
Will this be the solution to his problems, or the catalyst for his own unravelling?
Anne’s writing captured many people’s rapt attention with Sugar and Snails – published in July 2015 – and I was delighted to welcome her as my guest on Being Anne (you can read the interview again here). I don’t often include testimonials in my posts, but here are just a couple for Underneath – you’ll see that this book has also had quite an impact:
A dark and disturbing tale of a man who appears ordinary on the surface, but is deeply damaged. Clever and chilling; [Underneath] is a story that will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading.
– Sanjida Kay, author of Bone by Bone
[Underneath] is a compelling, insightful and brave novel of doomed, twisted romance driven by a sustained and unsettling voice.
– Ashley Stokes, author of The Syllabus of Errors
I must say this book made an indelible impression on me too. It’s claustrophobic and unsettling, complex and rather uncomfortable to read – and I really relished every moment of the experience. The room in the cellar – initially a retreat from the world over a Christmas of an unexpected new relationship, later something totally different – haunted my thoughts as I read, and for a considerable time thereafter.
The depths of this book and its characters didn’t surprise me, but I did find them engrossing – the extent to which past experience can be both reason and excuse for what happens thereafter. Although his actions are extreme – and shocking – Steve presents as a fascinating character and presence, “normal” on the outside (and wholly real and recognisable) but inwardly damaged and twisted, and a highly distinctive voice. And as for Liesel – she constantly draws your eye, her actions and reactions wholly bizarre, her persona compelling.
I’m not a genre reader, but in a world where people need to put books in appropriately shaped boxes I’m really not sure where this book sits. It’s certainly not a romance – although at times it might lull you into believing it is, albeit a highly unusual one – and it’s not a conventional psychological thriller, although I think it maybe sits most comfortably in that category. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea though – the pace is slow, but I thought it perfect in the way that increased the impact of the unexpected twists and turns of the story. What I can say though is that the writing is of the highest quality and readability – although the content at times makes it a less easy read – and the complexity of both character development and the story itself totally compelling. Try it, see what you think – “enjoyed” is totally the wrong word, but this was certainly a book I won’t forget in a hurry.
My thanks to the author for my advance reading e-copy – and my apologies that the review has taken me so long. If you’re intrigued, do take a look at some of the stops on the recent blog tour – reviews of many hues, and some excellent guest posts from the author.
About the author
Like Steve, Anne Goodwin used to like to travel, but now she prefers to stay at home and do her travelling in her head. Like Liesel, she’s worked in mental health services, where her focus, as a clinical psychologist, was on helping people tell their neglected stories to themselves. Now that her short fiction publication count has overtaken her age, her ambition is to write and publish enough novels to match her shoe size. Underneath is her second novel; her first, Sugar and Snails, was shortlisted for the Polari First Book Prize. Anne lives in the East Midlands and is a member of Nottingham Writers’ Studio.