Avon does it again. Another fantastic thriller for me (and everyone else) to read! This one comes from the Sunday Times bestseller, C.L. Taylor.
The Fear explores an experience that has become increasingly prevalent and discussed in recent years: the grooming and exploitation of teenage girls and young women by figures in authority.
When Lou Wandsworth was 14 years old, she travelled to France with her karate teacher, Mike, for what she thought was a romantic weekend. During those few days alone together, Lou discovered that the love of her life wasn’t all that he seemed, and her life was left in tatters.
Now 32, Lou moves back to her childhood home after her father dies, she discovers that Mike was getting close to another teenage girl, Chloe Meadows. She decides enough is enough – she has to confront him about the damage he has caused, and exorcise the demons that have plagued her during her adult life.
As she tries to bring him to justice, it soon becomes clear that Lou could once again become his prey. Not to mention the fact that someone else is watching her very closely from the shadows.
The most powerful aspect of this novel in my reading was Taylor’s exploration of the multifarious ways that exploitation and abuse manifests itself. The narrative continuously shifts between the characters, and their stories intersect and overlap in invisible ways as well as literally. This offers the reader a larger picture to understand why these young girls don’t recognise inappropriate behaviour, and how their experiences can have lasting effects in their lives.
“I need to find Mike. Now. Before the fear sets in again.”
In Lou’s narrative, her current experiences are interwoven with the recollections of that fateful weekend in France, and the events that preceded it. It’s a poignant portrayal of trauma and remembrance that emphasises Lou’s resilience, and makes her determination to prevent this happening again even more significant. (A couple of scenes in the flashbacks are rather graphic – it fits the tone and focus of the narrative, but some readers may find them more uncomfortable than others for various reasons.)
Alongside this central strand, Taylor weaves in themes of strained familial and romantic relationships, teenage anxiety, bullying, stalking, and the use of social media. This last topic was covered particularly well. The ease with which we can share information about ourselves is both incredible and terrifying because it matched by the ease of others, known and unknown, seeing that information. We use social media channels so frequently – they are so ingrained to our routines and identities now – that we are almost blind to its more insidious uses, often unquestioningly accepting what we see there as truth. In The Fear, this provides a further narrative of disturbing behaviour that brings home how many dangers we often have to protect ourselves from.
The chilling atmosphere of Lou’s home in Malvern was a fantastic setting for the novel. From the derelict nature of the house itself, to the vastness of the surrounding fields and distance from the main road, Taylor creates a sense of dangerous isolation that builds the tension to a fever pitch as events continue.
While it’s full of pace and high octane emotional drama, I felt that there was perhaps one too many twists for my own liking, especially towards the end. It jolted me out of the narrative that had so gripped me throughout.
Overall, The Fear is an exciting novel that showcases Taylor’s adept skill of combining intense, human experiences with dramatic tension to create a truly compelling story. With praise from Karin Slaughter, Claire Mackintosh, and so many others, The Fear is another great addition to the psychological thriller canvas.
*The Fear, by C. L. Taylor, was published by Avon (HarperCollins UK) on 22nd March 2018