reviewed by Carolyn Scott
Grace has returned to the English coastal town of Clearwater, where she grew up before she emigrated with her parents to Australia when she was seventeen. Now married with an eight-year-old daughter and her husband away working In Singapore, she is looking forward to re-connecting with Anna Robinson, her childhood best friend.
Anna’s mother left when she was five, leaving her disengaged father to bring her up. When Anna and Grace became friends at school, Anna started spending a lot of time at Grace’s house with her family, the two of them becoming as close as sisters. However, now that Grace has returned to Clearwater, she discovers Anna has moved on and has her own tightly knit group of close friends. While Anna is happy to see Grace again, she is not looking to rekindle the close friendship they once had or to talk about the events that happened in their past. But then Anna goes missing after a night out with friends and Grace feels like she is the only one concerned about her.
The Whispers is a complex, engrossing tale about women’s friendships and how the closeness of these friendships can lead to toxicity, jealousy, and even obsession. The first part of the novel is mostly seen through Grace’s eyes, but is she a reliable narrator? Could she be seeing her old friendship through rose colored glasses and Anna’s friends as controlling rather than merely supporting Anna?
In the background at the school gates, are the mothers at the primary school where Anna and Grace’s children are in the same class. At school drop-off and pick-up time they gather in clusters and watch in fascination as Anna and her friends interact with Grace, whispering about they think is going on in this drama playing out before their eyes. This was almost an incidental theme in the novel, but could have been employed more effectively to add tantalizing gossip and conjecture as commentary on what appeared to be happening in the triangle that is Grace, Anna and Anna’s little group of friends.
The story is a slow burner but this allows the tension to build slowly and ramp up once we start to hear more of Anna’s voice later in the novel. It’s more of a psychological thriller than a mystery with the need to delve into the thoughts and motives of both Anna and Grace. The prologue ensures that there is always a feeling of foreboding, as we know a body will be found at the end – but just who’s body will it be?
With thanks to Random House UK and NetGalley for a copy to read. Expected publication date April 15, 2021.