It is my turn on the blog tour for this rather intriguing book, which certainly caught my eye once I saw the synopsis. Thank you to Anne Cater for my place on the tour, and also Kate Weinberg and Putnam for a free electronic copy.
Published: 8th August 2019
Genre: General Fiction/Thriller
Trigger warnings: Strong sexual references, drugs
People disappear when they most want to be seen. Jess Walker, middle child of a middle class family, has perfected the art of vanishing in plain sight. But when she arrives at a concrete university campus under flat, grey, East Anglian skies, her world flares with colour.
Drawn into a tightly-knit group of rule breakers – led by their maverick teacher, Lorna Clay – Jess begins to experiment with a new version of herself. But the dynamic between the friends begins to darken as they share secrets, lovers and finally a tragedy. Soon Jess is thrown up against the question she fears most: what is the true cost of an extraordinary life?
This was an immensely thought-provoking book with a healthy sprinkling of clever ideas and imaginative concepts. While it focuses quite heavily on a mystery element and contains a plot that is rather contrived in places, it completely succeeded in holding my attention with the help of excellent characterisation and the way in which it explored some fascinating philosophical questions.
It is clear to see that the author has taken great inspiration from the works of Agatha Christie, which are cited regularly throughout the story. They act as a kind of foundation for everything that takes place here, and all the themes that ultimately emerge. This book uses a contemporary setting and dissects human nature and its many guises with unrelenting eloquence, giving the reader plenty of cause to stop and think.
It all begins when Jess Walker enrols at university in East Anglia, excited at the opportunity to study English Literature under the guidance of the free-spirited Professor Lorna Clay, whom she holds in great admiration after reading her book, The Truants. Once there, she immediately builds a close rapport with Lorna and also becomes friends with an affluent girl named Georgie.
During the term, Jess gets up to all kinds of misadventure with her friends, and develops strong feelings for Georgie’s intellectual and enigmatic boyfriend Alec, who drives around in a hearse and has many stories to tell, both from his childhood and his work as a journalist in South Africa. This leads to a betrayal that seriously impacts every aspect of her life, and is compounded by the sequence of events that follows.
As she adjusts to this new reality, Jess is drawn closer to Lorna, who is a walking mystery in herself. It turns out that Lorna has deeply buried secrets of her own, and Jess will stop at nothing in her attempts to find out the truth, leading to some interesting revelations that further shape her future and her outlook on life.
Initially this book was a little bit slow to get going. I was enjoying the writing, but it was a long wait to see which direction that the plot was heading. The story was compelling in terms of its complexity and the way it studied each character in tremendous depth, uncovering layer after layer. Also, the further that you read on, the more you appreciate the thought that went into this book and how each line carries a significance.
I suppose the main problem I have with the story is that some aspects of the plot are unbelievably far-fetched. The closeness that Jess and her friends have with their university lecturers go way beyond reality, and any thought of professional boundaries is cast into oblivion. That Jess was a frequent visitor to Lorna’s home and ended up travelling with her to a Mediterranean island really did seem fanciful!
The entire book is told entirely in the first person from the point of view of Jess, as a retrospective account from six years after the events that take place. To say that Jess was likeable is perhaps stretching it just a little, but there were times where I could certainly empathise with her and appreciate how she is developed very well to the extent that she becomes an increasingly compelling narrator.
In many ways, this is both a coming of age story and a fascinating character study. I enjoyed all of the academic discussions of Agatha Christie and how the love triangle trope was used in a totally innovative way. Then we have the mystery, which is left hanging in the air. I usually prefer everything to be resolved by the end, but in this case I thought it worked fairly well.
The other characters all brought something extra to the book. At first it seemed like Georgie was a bit of a cliche, but as her storyline progressed I was proven wrong. Then we have Alec, who is very calculating and specialises in half-truths. I never liked him at all and often wondered why all of the female characters appeared to find him so special.
However, the most interesting character in The Truants is undoubtedly Lorna. She can perhaps be described as ‘morally grey’, with her unique approach to life and clear disregard for the rules, not to mention the past that she is concealing. I found her very entertaining to read, as she often made the effortless transition from demonstrative and outgoing to warm and compassionate.
The quality of the writing was one of the highlights for me, and it was all the more impressive considering that it was a debut novel. The settings were detailed and I especially liked the atmosphere of the island and the isolation that it brought. There were a few problems with the pacing, as the story took a long time to get going and the ending also felt slightly drawn out.
Overall, this was an intriguing and highly thoughtful read that covers a wide variety of themes, fabulous character depth, and a decent mystery that lurks in the background. The plot may have had its flaws but there were many things to like here and I would certainly be inclined to pick up whatever Kate Weinberg writes next.
Kate Weinberg studied English at the University of Oxford, and creative writing at the University of East Anglia. The Truants is her first novel, released in 2019.
Prior to that, she worked as a ghostwriter and bookshop assistant. Weinberg lives in her hometown of London.
An intelligently written book with great depth of character and thought. I had some issues with the plot, but the reading experience was mainly positive.
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5
*I received a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
Check out the other reviews in the blog tour!