It’s an absolute delight today to be joining the blog tour for Shame, the latest book from Elizabeth Forbes, and sharing my review. Independently published on 30th May, it’s now available both for kindle and in paperback. My thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for the invitation and support, and to the author for my reading e-copy.
I recently reshared my 2013 review of Nearest Thing to Crazy to mark its republication (you’ll find that post here), amid protestations that there was once a time when a psychological thriller was my reading of choice. But there’s far more about Lizzie’s wonderful writing that I enjoyed than the cranked up suspense – her character development, her acute powers of observation, her special touch with hidden and layered secrets, and her powerful and emotional storytelling. When Lizzie sent me my copy of this book, she told me it wasn’t as “thrillerish” as her others – some had called it book club fiction, and she wondered what I might think. Although intrigued (and just a little bit excited), I’d thought it might be a while until I could get round to reading it – but when I heard about the tour, I really couldn’t resist…
George and Martha have things they’d rather keep hidden from each other: private thoughts, desires and secrets which, if discovered, could cause untold shame. But to an outsider they appear to have a happy, contented and conventional family life. At their twins’ Fred and Delilah’s twenty-first birthday party events conspire to uncover disturbing emotional connections, and threaten to reveal a past that has long been concealed.
Soon after, a holiday designed to repair the damage exposes further rifts that could spread beyond the family and possibly change their futures forever. As a GP, Martha is used to helping her patients mend physically and mentally, but can she do the same for her husband and children, or will the ensuing damage leave wounds that will never heal?
My goodness, isn’t it wonderful when a book turns out to be everything you wanted it to be? I read this book in one quite glorious sitting, finding it entirely impossible to set it aside until I’d read the very last page.
Essentially, it’s the story of a marriage at a point when it might be quietly disintegrating. Martha is a busy GP, dealing with matters of life and death with quiet professionalism but struggling to find time for anything other than work: George works in the art world, and his focus is rarely on the marriage either, his absences frequent (and when at home, walking the dog seems considerably more important than addressing the cracks in his marriage). They have grown-up twins, Fred and Delilah (and she’s the more high maintenance of the pair), approaching their joint 21st birthday – and it’s something of a relief when George’s brother takes on the organisation of the party to celebrate the occasion, to take place at their former family home.
We already know that George walked away from his inheritance – although his version of how that happened, when he’s the older brother, is rather shrouded in mystery, his version rather at odds with the one we’d read in the book’s intriguing prologue. The party certainly has its moments of drama, and there are quite a few undercurrents to the relationships between the characters that we don’t fully understand. But we have the opportunity to explore them further – an Italian holiday in a villa secured by George’s work partner Nathan, for himself and the couple, both children and their current partners, along with Martha’s friend and confidante Abi.
And that’s when the layers of secrets begin to emerge, and all those small cracks begin to widen. It becomes a story filled with the darkest edges, and its intensity at times makes you gasp – the author has taken time and care establishing and building her characters, but there are always those small doubts you have about whether you really know them as well as you think you do. Together on the holiday, the tension and pressure build to breaking point – and almost every character has something significant about either their past or present that’s gradually (and deliciously) revealed, with devastating consequences.
The character development in this book is quite superb. I found Martha herself very sympathetic – she’s struggling with middle age invisibility, has made a few decisions she regrets, yearns to be a domestic goddess like her perfect sister-in-law, and we share her desire to do whatever’s necessary to repair her marriage. George is rather more resistant – while he notices her concerns and distraction, and the love they had is still very evident, it’s clear the marriage is withering largely because of its neglect. Daughter Delilah is rather more difficult to like – immature for her age, her life is in constant turmoil, one small drama after another. Other characters who emerge are equally wonderfully drawn – this is a character driven story, and their many complexities are far greater than you could ever begin to imagine.
The whole book is quite wonderfully paced – I’ve noticed people mentioning the slow build up to all the fireworks, but that was something I particularly enjoyed, all those small hints and clues but also setting a firm foundation for what was to come. Others have mentioned the ending – had the book been twice as long, I’d still have wanted more, but I thought it was entirely right and appropriate. And as for the fireworks themselves – every single revelation hit me with the force of a sledgehammer, and although I sometimes thought I might be a step ahead of the story I was never on entirely the same page. Emotionally, it’s absolutely stunning – there are so many moments that make you ache inside, to feel for the characters, to hurt as much as they do with every fresh (and wholly believable and convincing) revelation.
Without question, this is one of my books of the year – I hardly drew breath between its beginning and end, and I can’t begin to describe its emotional impact. The shame of the title is something many of the characters have reason to feel through the course of the story – but I loved every single moment, and can’t wait to see what this wonderful author does next.
About the author
Elizabeth Forbes was born and raised on the Isle of Wight and now lives in Herefordshire with her husband, two dogs and two hens. She published three romantic thrillers under the name Elizabeth Harrington: The Corporate Wife, Making Up and Daddy Darling. She then took a break from writing and enrolled with the Open University to study for a degree in Literature. She completed her BA with First Class Honours, and also achieved the OU’s Diploma in Creative Writing.
Her first psychological suspense novel, Nearest Thing to Crazy, was published by Cutting Edge Press in 2013. BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and the Mail Online featured the novel because of its gaslighting subject matter. It was a bestseller in Amazon UK’s psychological thriller charts. Her second novel published by Cutting Edge Press in 2014 was Who Are You? which is a dark and twisty tale focussing on the stormy marriage of two people affected by PTSD and childhood trauma. Elizabeth has recently re-published these novels independently with Amazon KDP: her new novel, Shame, was published on 30th May 2021.