Today I’m taking part in the blog tour for Emily Freud’s debut novel which is ideal summer reading for those who like a psychological drama.
As the novel begins, it’s Kate’s wedding day – when she receives the text telling her that he’s not coming.
Flash back to several weeks earlier. Ben and Kate arrive at Ben’s club for dinner, and while Kate is adjusting her make-up, she is astounded to see her old best friend at the adjacent mirror. She hasn’t seen Becky for ten years, Becky has changed – become gorgeous in the years she’s been in New York. She’s recently returned, and is looking for a job – meeting an old colleague at the club to network. Although their meeting is a bit stilted, Kate tells her about her fiancé, and takes Becky to meet him, she joins them at the table for a drink.
Ben turns to Kate. ‘Kate, what would you like? They have a few mocktails here in the back,’ he says. Kate can’t help feeling excluded, like a patronized child allowed on the grown-up table as a treat.
‘I’m fine with sparkling water,’ she says. She can feel Becky watching her, confused.
Becky and Ben seem to hit it off really well. Ben is American from New York, so they swap stories. Kate plucks up the courage to ask why she’s come back and is told that Becky’s older sister had summoned her to help with their mother, Susanna. The conversation continues and Ben proposes a toast, and Kate feel’s it’s time to tell Becky something.
‘I don’t drink any more,’ Kate says, feeling the moment requires an explanation.
‘I’ve been sober six years,’ She wants Becky to know that, after all the broken promises, she finally did it.
‘That’s amazing, Kate.’ Becky sets her glass down. ‘That really is amazing.’
So by the end of the first chapter, the scenario is mostly set-up. Kate is an alcoholic, she broke up with her best friend Becky ten years ago, but doesn’t recall what happened – it’s all a blank. Ben is just too good to be true. We sense that Becky’s return into Kate’s life is not as simple as it seems. Ben’s current job as an engineer takes him away for a few days each week, Kate is an English teacher in a tough state school. She and Becky meet again while Ben is away and Becky confesses that she’s not getting along with her mum living at home, and Becky offers her the spare room for a few weeks until she can find a place of her own. This is when the alarm bells really start to clang.
As the days go on, Kate obsesses over Becky – desperate to discover more about their falling out ten years before. The tension in their flat builds and builds. Becky and Ben seem to get on so well that Kate starts to get jealous. Thank goodness for her sponsor Clare who she can talk to any time, Kate has also been lax lately going to meetings.
Freud is good at portraying Kate’s ongoing battles with her alcoholism, the seeds of which were sown as a young teenager after her mum died. She also struggles in her relationship with her father Jonny, who lives in Margate, doing up an old house. She should visit him, she should invite him to their wedding, but Ben wants to keep it so small–no guests–just witnesses pulled off the street.
Contrasting against her own life problems is her job as a teacher, which gives her great satisfaction when she manages to get through to these kids. There is one, Lily, due to sit her GCSEs this summer who could achieve good things, if only she could be persuaded to turn up for school. Lily is a bit of a personal project for Kate, and again you can sense that things might go just a little too far.
Of course, given the set-up, we will find out why Ben didn’t turn up to his wedding and why Kate and Becky fell out.
It’s a great read getting there although the pacing is a little leisurely at times despite being written in the present tense which usually gives immediacy to the narrative of this kind of drama. I did work out what happened ahead of the climax, but then the excitement was in how it would be resolved. All in all, this is an engaging debut and great summer page-turner.
Source: Review copy – thank you. My Best Friend’s Secret (Quercus) – paperback, 342 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s via affiliate link.