Review “THE BODY LIES” By Jo Baker
This heart-pounding story takes the familiar plot line of a student-teacher relationship to the extreme. It straddles an already blurred line between fiction and fact, truth and lies. All in the guise of an academic psychological thriller.
A thirty-year-old unnamed pregnant narrator walking home from a shift at a London bookshop is traumatized after an attempted rape by a runner in a blue anorak. Weeks later, her son is born, but fear and paranoia continue to stalk her.
Three years pass and she tells her teacher husband Mark that she can no longer live in the city. The couple compromise with a wobbly commuter marriage when she takes a lectureship position on how to write novels (she’s written a successful one) at a university in the “back of beyond” countryside. Everything “looked so comfortable, and safe…a world away from [her] old life.” But she feels isolated and, as the newest member of the faculty, begins to feel uncomfortable.
Her discomfort steadily increases when Nicholas Palmer, one of the students in her postgraduate course, turns in a manuscript which appears to be drawing from elements of her own personal life. His obsession quickly turns into a fatal attraction. She comes to believe that he’s making her a character in his story. The narrator fears the “prospect of being written by someone else; the fear of having no say” in who she is at all, causing her PTSD to resurface.
Baker structures this novel around the three terms of the college year: Michaelmas, Lent, and Trinity. Fiction and fact intertwine as Nicholas believes that he “only writes what happens. If he writes it, then it’s true.”
Truth and lies intersect in brief passages which are related to the body of the title. They whet the reader’s appetite until the identity of the victim is revealed after the dark secrets of several lives are disclosed.
The novel is also interlaced with complaints filed by other postgrads, along with statements from student services and administrative officers. These, in addition to Palmer’s manuscript and the narrator’s breathless account of the events, contribute to the cumulative suspense of “The Body Lies.”
Review “The Body Lies” by Jo Baker
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