‘Twisted family ties and intricate revenge’
– The Exes
[ About The Exes ]
When Holly is bequeathed a large but derelict house, she wants to share her good fortune. So she gets in touch with former boyfriend Ray, a builder who can project-manage the renovation in exchange for the basement flat. The spacious middle floor would make a glorious studio space—perfect for her friend and first love, Spencer. And before Holly knows it, the upper floor is let to soon-to-be ex-husband James, who’s on a path of reinvention from city highflyer to osteopath. What could possibly go wrong?
But no good deed goes unpunished, and soon the house is riddled with tension, rivalry, and petty spitefulness. And as Holly is beset with migraines, nausea, and spiralling self-doubt, even the house itself seems to be turning against her. But for someone, everything is going to plan . . .
[ My Review ]
The Exes by Jane Lythell published with Bloodhound Books March 16th and is described as ‘domestic noir at its insidious, menacing best’.
Based in Brighton, The Exes is an ominous tale of greed and revenge. Holly is surprised when she receives news that her reclusive aunt Lillian has bequeathed her a Victorian villa, Penumbra House. Her aunt had lived most of her life in France only staying in Penumbra once a year when she was alive. The house has suffered serious neglect over the decades and Holly is only too delighted at the prospect of such a challenging opportunity. In her forties, Holly is now single, albeit not divorced from her husband, James. She has enjoyed her work as a teacher but does feel that this change in her life will be good for her and will shake her up a little.
Holly is aware that she doesn’t have the necessary skill set to renovate Penumbra so she makes a very radical decision. She invites her three exes (including her estranged husband James) to move in with her. Ray is a builder and will move into the basement, rent-free, with the arrangement that he will lead the rebuild and manage the contractors etc. Holly will live on the ground floor. Her oldest boyfriend Spencer, now an artist, will use the first floor as his studio but not as a live-in. James will move into the top floor, where he plans to live and to establish his new osteopath practice. As far as Holly is concerned, it’s a practical decision as it means she won’t be alone among the ghosts of Penumbra while it claws its way back to life. Also, having Ray on board will hopefully mean less headaches in the long-term.
Theoretically it all makes sense but, from the very beginning, Laura, Holly’s friend thought it was utter madness. Living with her exes was a recipe for disaster as far as Laura was concerned but Holly was determined, too set in her ways to even consider Laura’s recommendations.
Holly anticipated some level of conflict, in particular between Ray and James. Both had strong personalities and her expectation was that they would come to occasional blows. But Holly was unprepared for the constant sniping between the pair. Holly’s marriage to James had been one where he liked to be the dominant one, the partner in control and now, seeing her take advice from Ray, incensed him.
Holly knew that old houses had a history and, over the years, developed creaks and quirks. Following a few unexpected and bizarre events, she began to wonder about the scale of the project she was taking on. With James causing a rift in the household, she decided to host a monthly dinner, where they could all sit together and air any grievances. It was all hard work and soon Holly began to feel exhausted. The scale of the project was taking its toll on her, she was sleeping badly and her days left her battling unusual migraines and little appetite. Laura was concerned for Holly’s wellbeing but she was having little success in convincing Holly that something was very much amiss.
I did find Holly’s personality frustrating in many ways. From the outset, having her three exes share the same living space was a completely bonkers idea. There were times when she was a bit of a pushover in how she dealt with them but Holly was a people-pleaser. Her lack of strength in many of her actions was just her manner. Holly didn’t want upset, she didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings but this inability to act also meant that when she clearly wasn’t well, she just kept hoping that the next day all would be better. When reading The Exes I did have one constant underlying niggle with the tense. It was all very much in the continuous present tense which I found a challenge to get over and, at times, it did affect my reading experience.
The Exes is a slow revealing tale of revenge and greed, a story of familial grievances and jealousies, one with a dark story at its core. There is an unexpected malevolence to The Exes, with an interesting and unusual plot, one that will appeal to many.
[ Bio ]
Jane Lythell lives by the sea in Brighton, East Sussex, UK.
Her debut novel THE LIE OF YOU has been translated into seven languages and it inspired the film A WORKING MOM’S NIGHTMARE starring Tuppence Middleton, Lydia Wilson, Rupert Graves, and Luke Roberts. This is currently screening on Lifetime Movies in the USA.
Jane worked as a TV producer for 15 years; moved to the British Film Institute as Deputy Director; was Chief Executive of BAFTA for one year followed by seven years at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. She now writes full-time.
Her two psychological thrillers THE LIE OF YOU and AFTER THE STORM were published in 2014 and 2015 and were USA Today bestsellers.
Her next, WOMAN OF THE HOUR, revealed life at the TV front-line through the eyes of producer Liz Lyon. It came out in July 2016 and the follow-up novel BEHIND HER BACK was published in 2018.
Her new novel, THE EXES, is domestic noir.
Twitter ~ @janelythell