When Alice arrives on campus amidst the ancient splendour of Cambridge University, she thinks she’s found her wonderland. Then one night something happens – one inexplicable act ruins everything and she finds herself alone. Alice will not admit defeat; having practically raised her two brothers single-handedly, she is good at being strong. Too good.
But soon her dark secret becomes too much and the cracks begin to show. Her weekly meetings with Flo, the stranger on the bench, become her lifeline. And try as she might to bury the dark truth of that awful night, she begins to realise that some things have to be faced up to.
It’s time for Alice to look at her broken reflection and start to put the pieces back together…
I bought this book (trade paperback even!) immediately after I heard about it months ago - it just sounded so good, just my kind of thing. I started reading it as soon as I could and I was rather impressed by the beginning, but then things just went downhill and I found myself struggling to finish it, which was completely unexpected. I don't think the book itself is to blame, I guess it just didn't strike a chord with me personally.
The plot started off well - I enjoyed reading about Alice's settling back into the Cambridge life for her second term and I found the descriptions of her Uni life rather interesting as my experience was quite different. But that's just the side plot whereas this book mostly revolves around the fact that Alice was raped and the effect this has on her life. Obviously, this is a very difficult topic to tackle and I appreciated that it wasn't sugarcoated at all. In fact, I thought the author did a good job portraying the internal struggle women have after being raped - doubting that they were raped, wondering if it was their fault, nightmares, feeling dirty, withdrawing from people, facing emotional breakdown etc. While I appreciate that, I still the plot didn't flow well - I somehow still found it boring? There was an explosive subject at the heart of the book, but the story failed to intrigue me somehow. I thought the Flo bit was rather silly and I wasn't too keen on the ending either - it was slightly confusing, but I didn't really dwell on it, I was just relieved that the novel was finally over.
I'm afraid I didn't really warm up to the characters either. Alice should be someone I should symphatize with, and I did at first, but then I somehow just found her more annoying than anything, as harsh as it sounds. I could understand why she acted the way she did, she wanted to remain strong as always etc., but I just couldn't relate to her. The side characters just all fell flat for me too and sadly I wasn't particularly intrigued by any of them.
The author has a great way with words and her writing is really lyrical at times, which is something that I appreciate and I know she'll be able to go a long way with it. However, I still can't say that the novel was incredibly well written, seeing how to me the plot didn't really flow nicely and I certainly wasn't keen on multiple narrators - every now and then, one of Alice's friends takes over the narration: sometimes it's her BFF Millie, then it's her friend Joey, a couple of times it's her ex Paddy etc. These narrators aren't marked by name or anything so you have to figure out yourself who's telling the story now, which isn't particularly difficult (although their narrative voices are quite similar), but sometimes it's still a bit confusing.
All in all, I had high expectations for this novel, but sadly they were not met. I knew what it would be about and I expected such a topic to inspire a very moving book, but unfortunately it all just fell a bit flat for me. I'm not saying the book was bad, as a matter of fact I think the author is very talented, especially given her youth, but I just really couldn't connect neither with the story nor with the characters. But wahey, at least the covers are pretty, right? Pictured above is the one I have (Irish trade paperback) and below are Irish paperback and the UK paperback respectively. Which one's your favourite?
plot: 2/5 | writing: 3/5 | characters: 2/5 | cover: 4/5