Today I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for The Body Lies by Jo Baker.
When a young writer accepts a job at a university in the remote countryside, it’s meant to be a fresh start, away from the big city and the scene of a violent assault she’s desperate to forget. But despite the distractions of a new life and single motherhood, her nerves continue to jangle. To make matters worse, a vicious debate about violence against women inflames the tensions and mounting rivalries in her creative writing group.
When a troubled student starts sending in chapters from his novel that blur the lines between fiction and reality, the professor recognises herself as the main character in his book – and he has written her a horrific fate.
Will she be able to stop life imitating art before it’s too late?
At once a breathless battle-of-wits and a disarming exploration of sexual politics, The Body Lies is an essential book for our times.
I don’t think I’ve ever felt such fear for a character. There is something deeply unsettling within this story. From the very beginning there is a sense of menace deep rooted within and the tension gradually builds and builds until I could hardly bear it. For the Friends fans amongst you, there was a point where I considered putting the book in the freezer!
In all seriousness though this is a riveting read. Afterwards I thought about how much it had got into my head, how much I actually felt as though I was living the story. The story is written in a first person narrative. We watch things unfold as our protagonist does. We go through the first attack and then everything else that follows. It was intense. But it wasn’t just this that made it feel so intimate. It was only afterwards that I realised that I never even knew what this characters name was. I looked back through, perhaps I’ve missed it but even now she is nameless. This is one of the things that made me feel so involved, I couldn’t segmentize her in my mind as Paula or Emma or whoever. This had an incredibly powerful effect at pulling me into the story and really living it with her. Superb. As I drew closer and closer towards the end it made me smile at the cleverness of this author and the way she writes.
The story itself is dark and delves into the effects of writing. It is often wondered where writers come up with their stories and some consider that there must be an element of truth there and this story touches on the brilliantly. Jo uses it as another form of harassment. Yet of course writers are not actually always writing from experience but this novel just goes to show the power stories and words have.
As the synopsis says The Body Lies is heavily influenced by sexual politics. As I read I found myself watching the errors of judgement that our narrator took and wanting to say ‘no, no, no’, to stop the fallout I could see coming. However, it’s easy to judge when looking in from the comfort of your safe, warm, home how we possibly should react in such circumstances. Yet our narrator is kind, thoughtful and simply trying to do her best with whatever is thrown at her – she really is not deserving if what happens to her. But I do think that Jo’s message here is important. Quite often women are held at fault for things that are out of their control: a situation taken advantage of, the fear of reaction and how to deal with something that you want to just ignore and hope will fade away but feels like a ticking bomb. This is what forces so many to remain silent. The reaction of how others perceive what is happening is key and can make circumstances even more difficult. Of course what happens here is extreme but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t women suffering a similar fate. I’d say that this novel is a lesson in speaking up and remembering that violence or abuse it is never okay.
All in all this is a thrilling, gripping read where there are moments that you may want to look away…but you won’t be able to, not until you turn the very final page.
The Body Lies has been published by Doubleday, an imprint of Penguin Books.
Many thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me to be a part of this blog tour and for sharing with me this sleep-depriving read. :). I loved it.
About the author
JO BAKER is the author of the acclaimed and bestselling LONGBOURN and A COUNTRY ROAD, A TREE. Her new novel, THE BODY LIES, is a thrilling contemporary novel that explores violence against women in fiction but is also a disarming story of sexual politics.
Jo Baker lives with her family in Lancashire.
You can follow Jo on Twitter at @JoBakerWriter