I was completely gripped by this book from the very beginning. The thriller-style snappy writing and the Gothic-esque setting of the Cambridge fens really appealed to me and I found myself reading this at a lot faster and more desperate speed than I’d expected.
Title: Beneath the Surface
Author: Fiona Neill
Publication Date: 11th July 2019
Publisher: Penguin UK – Michael Joseph
From the outside the Vermuydens have a picture perfect family; an eldest daughter who is a swimming champion, straight A student and on track for Oxbridge, a younger daughter who is witty and creative, a mother who will do anything for them and a father who is distantly paternal. But when eldest daughter Lilly has a seizure in class, the cracks begin to appear, or at least become more obvious.
The family are sinking money into a house that can’t be saved, Lilly has been hiding more than they thought, and Grace, the mother, has secrets of her own trapped in traumatic childhood that she is desperate to forget. Meanwhile Mia, the youngest, is drawing on her vast imagination to find answers to the confusion and uncertainty that’s surrounding her.
Mia in particular was a great character – I wasn’t always convinced that she was speaking with the thoughts or voice of a ten year old – but she has the wilfulness, cruelty, kindness and capriciousness of a child.
I enjoyed reading about Grace as the parent who wanted to get everything just right, to give her children the childhood she had never had. Who wanted the best for her children, and that always comes through hard work, right?
And the story itself was fast-paced, gritty and a little thrilling.
However, I did find the ending a little unsatisfying. Without spoiling it, it feels like an episode of Game of Thrones when the credits start playing before you’ve had chance to process what had actually happened.
Especially as, when you think about it, just because the book has ended, doesn’t mean that everything has been resolved – there were a lot of ongoing issues, problems and questions that still needed fixing – but it would have been a disservice to wrap all of that up in an Epilogue.
Also, Patrick, the father, was so incredibly wet. I got the impression that he had been based on a number of weedy men the author might have known, with some exaggerated features, but he is very much a bit-part in this family, and is constantly emasculated. I wasn’t looking for a happy, shiny ending, but he seems to have been punished for his ignorance more than any other character.
Finally, almost every chapter switches point of view every few paragraphs. This works well in keeping you hooked and pushing the story on, but as a reader it meant that there were times when it was difficult to connect with the characters, as it was like a spotlight jumping around from one to the next.
That being said, these ‘every day’ characters are incredibly well-written. And there are lots of interesting parallels between the setting (the open Fens, the crumbling house) and the story, as well as the mirroring of past and present. It would definitely make for an interesting discussion.
Overall, I was suprised by how gripped I was by this novel: 4 stars.