Exquisite was published by Orenda Books on 15 May 2017 and is available to buy here
Bo Luxton has it all – a loving family, a beautiful home in the Lake District, and a clutch of bestselling books to her name. Enter Alice Dark, an aspiring writer who is drifting through life, with a series of dead-end jobs and a freeloading boyfriend. When they meet at a writers’ retreat, the chemistry is instant, and a sinister relationship develops … Or does it? Breathlessly pacey, taut and terrifying, Exquisite is a startlingly original and unbalancing psychological thriller that will keep you guessing until the very last page.
Exquisite is a glimpse into the lives of two rather unstable women. Although it is marketed as a psychological thriller, it is more a character study into obsession and warped love. It was reminiscent of Zoe Heller’s Notes on a Scandal. The same kind of sinister love, with the threat of danger. It is a reminder that love makes fools of everyone, especially the slightly unhinged.
Bo is a very middle class writer in her forties. She lives with her husband and two small children. She is relatively successful, with a few historical books to her name. She invites a young woman from Brighton to attend her writing class for free. This woman is Alice Dark, a Brighton free spirit with the ambition to become a professional writer. Bo and Alice seem to get on instantly. Sparks fly. Sexual chemistry. Love. We know that one of these women ends up behind bars. What happened to turn this illict love affair wrong? Who is behind bars and why? The narrative twists and turns between these two women, as we see their inner most thoughts.
I was very drawn into the entanglement of the love affair between Bo and Alice. These are two intense women, who seem to jump into lust and love, without much thought. They are selfish. The instant love is very instant. Only when Bo starts to take stock of things, do we see signs of reality creeping it. She has a family and security that she cherishes. These women are much too flawed, too obsessive and emotionally messed up by their pasts to have a credible chance of true love. We see the signs and wait for it all to explode. Who will survive this explosion?
Although I was very much involved in the lives of these two damaged women, I pretty much guessed from the outset how this would end up. It is obvious who is jailed. The signs are there. I could see who was the slightly stronger personality. The two women sound very similar at times, mirroring each other. Both of them full of words of love, extreme emotion and neediness. It seemed almost fake, like an unrealistic bubble about to pop. These slight flaws did not detract from my enjoyment of Exquisite. I read the book, as more of a psychological insight into two warped figures colliding.
Exquisite is a fine example of obsessive love and damaged personalities. Sarah Stowell creates two unforgettable women in Bo and Alice. It is rather an impressive debut.