An enthralling debut by BBC drama development executive Michelle Frances, ‘The Girlfriend’ is a tense psychological thriller that keeps you guessing until the end.
The story is set against the backdrop of trendy, hipster London, with brief forays in St. Tropez and River Tryweryn, Wales. Daniel Cavendish, son of Howard, a wealthy accountancy firm partner, and Laura, a successful TV producer, is fresh out of college, and apartment hunting. He falls for Cherry Laine, the ambitious estate agent who locates his new home for him. After introducing Cherry to his parents, something happens that leads Daniel’s mother Laura to be suspicious of Cherry’s intentions. Has she got together with Daniel for his money? With each passing day, her seemingly perfect relationship with her son begins to unravel. How can she put a stop to it?
This is not a traditional mystery or ‘who-done-it?’. There is no Alfred Hitchcock or M. Night Shyamalan twist in the tale. Instead it comes down to a mano-e-mano (or is that ‘womano-e-womano’?) between Cherry Laine and Laura Cavendish, with each woman reacting to the latest devious, malicious act perpetrated by the other with an equally despicable deed of her own. And so begins a deadly war of social one-upmanship, with both maintaining the pretence that no such war is actually taking place.
The story is effectively written. The location descriptions bring the settings to life, and the author uses knowledge of her time in television to good effect in showcasing Laura Cavendish’s employment routines. The story is told through both women’s point of view - this is a plus point as often in books we are not privy to the antagonist’s personal thoughts and motivations. Fans of soap operas will enjoy this. As will fans of 90’s TV movies about vengeful outsiders threatening family break-ups. However, the same fans will have seen it all before, and the sheer predictability of the narrative will not escape them. And, without giving away too many spoilers, there are also a number of additional aspects that let the book down. As the story progresses, the characters end up doing things out of character, or make bonkers-level personality leaps. In the case of one of the women, for example, from being slightly conniving but not much more in one chapter to becoming an outright psychopath in the next, snapping a dog’s neck in two with her bare hands. Or the defensive mother who wants nothing more than her daughter’s happiness, to suddenly divulge information that will surely prevent her daughter’s upcoming marriage from happening. However, the main let-down is the particularly tame ending, which after 450-odd pages, proves to be a disappointment.
To summarise, this is definitely readable, with a lot of promise. But ultimately let down by flaws.