Published by Faber and Faber
Publication date – 1 November 2018
Source – review copy
Jolted from sleep by the ringing of the telephone, Imogen stumbles through the dark, empty house to answer it. At first, she can’t quite understand the man on the other end of the line. Surely he can’t honestly be accusing her of killing her husband, Ivor, who died in a car crash barely two months ago.
As the nights draw in, Imogen finds her home filling up with unexpected Christmas guests, who may be looking for more than simple festive cheer. Has someone been rifling through Ivor’s papers? Who left the half-drunk whiskey bottle beside his favourite chair? And why won’t that man stop phoning, insisting he can prove Imogen’s guilt?
Imogen has lost her beloved husband Ivor. Facing a pile of condolence letters she has to respond to she is interrupted by a phone call. The person on the other end is accusing her of killing Ivor. Then her empty house becomes unexpectedly full. Strange things begin to occur, someone rearranges Ivor’s things, the children see people who can’t be there and the man keeps contacting Imogen, insisting he knows she killed her husband.
Imogen may be in a house full of people but she is very much alone. She has to deal with her grief herself, whilst dealing with everyone else’s problems. She is quite biting, often thinking of retorts or snide comments she would have shared with Ivor. She is both someone to dislike and someone to be drawn to at the same time. Ivor, though not appearing in person is very much a character in this short novel . He is narcissistic, self-obsessed and as described by his son and his wife, a psychopath (though not in the homicidal sense). He had many affairs, leaving behind many broken-hearted women, Imogen blithely accepting them and at some points responding to love letters sent to her husband. She too was under his spell, though from reminisces seemed to be more of his equal, and therefore respected by him.
The other characters are an assortment of self-centred adults and two slightly indulged children. There’s Cynthia, Ivor’s second ex-wife, who turns up from Bermuda. Ivor’s two children from his first marriage, Robin and Dot both descend on Imogen, Dot accompanied by her long-suffering husband Herbert and their two children Timmie and Vernon. Then there’s Edith, Imogen widowed neighbour, forever giving advice and guidance on how to be a good widow. Dot is conniving, Robin self-centred and without feeling for others. Their presence distracts Imogen from her grief but are of no help when the calls alleging her to have been involved in Ivor’s death begin.
There is a sense of uneasy thread throughout the novel. Something is not quite right and Imogen’s discomfort is palpable. The denouement is clever in its simplicity and is fitting with the pace of the story.
This is less a thriller and more a study of family relationships and the toxicity that can bubble under the surface.