‘No-one remembers your past. But you do.’
Today I am delighted to join Caroline England on tour with her debut novel Beneath the Skin.
Described as ‘a tense and compelling read, exploring truth, friendship and betrayal‘, Beneath The Skin has just been published in paperback by Avon (Harper Collins Imprint)
I have a short extract for you all, but first, as I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy, I have my, as ever, unbiased and voluntary review.
Please do read on…
‘Antonia, Antonia. My name is Antonia.’
It’s been her name for many years. But sometimes, like tonight, she forgets.
Antonia has a secret. A secret so dark and so deep that she can barely admit it to herself. Instead, she treats herself to Friday night sessions of self-harm while her husband David is at the pub, and her best friend Sophie is drinking too much wine a few doors down.
Nobody close to her knows the truth about what the teenage Antonia saw all those years ago. No-one, that is, except her mother. But Candy is in a care home now, her mind too addled to remember the truth. Antonia is safe. Isn’t she?
The lies start small. They always do. But when the tightly woven story you’ve told yourself begins to unravel, the truth threatens to come to the surface. And then what’s going to happen?
I have to be honest and say from the outset that this book did not turn out as I had expected and I mean that in a very positive way.
Beneath The Skin is marketed as a psychological thriller, but it was actually a lot more than that. I have seen it also described as a dark domestic noir and that I think, for me, would be a more apt portrayal.
Beneath The Skin is a study of human behaviour. It is an examination of marriage and how much we chose to reveal about our past lives. It is an observation of true friendship and it’s importance to our sanity and survival.
The novel focuses in on four couples:
- Antonia and David
- Sophie and Sami
- Helen and Charlie
- Olivia and Mike
All have differing relationships with each other, through shared experiences over the years.
Antonia and Sophie are childhood friends. Their history is probably the most complex of all and as the novel progresses we are drip fed snippets of their complicated past. From the beginning I just could not warm to Sophie. She is portrayed as manipulative, selfish and quite destructive. Antonia, a strikingly gorgeous woman, is living a life full of secrets. ‘”Antonia. Antonia. My name is Antonia” It’s been her name for many years.’ She has built up a protective shell around herself, giving the impression to many of one who is cold and impersonal.
It is the relationship between these two friends that forms the basis for much of the novel and this is where the psychological element was played out for me. They have a very symbiotic relationship, each feeding off the other, making for a very intriguing read.
Sophie is married to Sami. He’s flash. He’s good looking. He is very concerned about his appearance. His home, his job and the view the world has of him is very important to him…that includes his wife. With Sophie’s drinking getting noticeably worse, Sami is distancing himself from her, instead of dealing with it. He drinks pints with his mates – David, Charlie and Mike. He goes to the gym. He networks. He bumps shoulders with connected people. But Sami has his own personal issues that drive him to be so. We get flashbacks of a past that reveal a very different Sami.
David and Charlie are friends from their school days as boarders. David, suffered a tragedy while there and Charlie stepped up to help him. Charlie is a lovable character whose only vice is enjoying good food and a good whiskey. Charlie’s own relationship with Helen, his wife, works in it’s own way. With their son, Rupert, away in boarding school, Charlie and Helen live a very structured life where things are always done in a certain manner. For them, life is about to change in ways they had never expected.
Olivia and Mike appear to have the most stable relationship. Olivia is at home looking after their two daughters while Mike is out working. Their marriage seems happy enough on first appearance, but for Olivia her world feels a little in free fall. Loss of identity can be common enough with young mothers as they struggle to deal with the daily chores of dirty nappies and the terrible twos. Olivia finds herself changing and it’s not necessarily a change that she welcomes.
Beneath The Skin really is a tangled web of untold truths, secrets and deceit. It is very much a relationship driven novel as the reader is exposed to the lives of these eight characters. This is a novel not to be rushed. The story jumps between all eight and the secrets that they each keep closely guarded. Caroline England has a very distinct style to her storytelling that requires a focus. To miss out on a chapter due to lack of concentration could result in confusion for the reader. I like this in a book as it makes me stop and really ‘read’ the book.
Beneath The Skin is an intense read, beautifully written. I find it hard to believe it is a debut and I really do look forward to further writing from Caroline England.
In the meantime, I have an extract for you below to whet the appetite, so please do continue reading…
There’s a tremor in David’s large hand which he tries to ignore as he struggles to insert the tiny key into the lock of his bottom desk drawer. He extracts the yellow file and stares at its cover where his secretary has written ‘Indemnity and Claims’ in red marker pen.
He blows out his cheeks. Red for danger.
He glances at his closed office door before taking a deep breath. Then he opens the file quickly, like ripping off a plaster. As though that will make a difference. As though speed will alter the fact that the renewal date for the firm’s insurance has passed, undeniably passed, and he hasn’t done anything about it.
‘Goodness me, the renewal date has passed. The practice has no insurance in place. If there are any claims for poor legal advice or mistakes, the partners will be personally liable! How did that happen?’ He tries feigning surprise to himself, but it doesn’t wash, even in his mildly inebriated state. As the partner in charge of indemnity and claims, he’s always known about the date, roughly known, at least. But he’s put it on the furthermost back burner of his mind. Because. Because he knows.
He’d opened a savings account with a great rate of interest a year back. A deposit account for the firm and for the partners, but with himself as the sole signatory.
‘What shall we call it, David?’ the bank manager had asked over a long lunch.
‘Insurance,’ he replied.
‘But of course!’ the manager laughed.
He paid in the huge premium up front. It was a great plan. There’d be less whingeing about the cost of ever-increasing insurance premiums from the partners when renewal came. A nice little nest egg of interest to put towards the following year’s premium, too. It made sense. Charlie agreed. ‘I knew you were the man for the job, David. Excellent work.’ The other partners concurred and he enjoyed the rare praise.
He stares at the renewal notice in the file and then circles the premium figure with a pencil, whistling softly. Nearly a hundred thousand pounds and it has to be paid now. In a litigious society the firm must be covered for negligence claims. Claims for cock-ups, in short. He nods, his mind racing with thoughts of what to do. Cheque lost in the post? Yes. A backdated letter for the file? Absolutely. But the thing is to get it paid. PDQ. But there’s a problem, a huge heart-thrashing problem. Even though he hasn’t been able to bring himself to look at the ‘insurance account’, he knows without a doubt the money isn’t there.
Purchase Link ~ Beneath The Skin
Caroline England is a former divorce lawyer based in Manchester, whose fiction has appeared in various literary magazines.
Her background lends this book about couples a real authenticity.
Beneath The Skin is her debut.
Twitter ~ @CazEngland
Facebook ~ https://www.facebook.com/CazEngland1/