July 8, 2019

Book Review: What You Did by Claire McGowan

It was supposed to be the perfect reunion: six university friends together again after twenty years. Host Ali finally has the life she always wanted, a career she can be proud of and a wonderful family with her college boyfriend, now husband. But that night her best friend makes an accusation so shocking that nothing will ever be the same again.

When Karen staggers in from the garden, bleeding and traumatised, she claims that she has been assaulted—by Ali’s husband, Mike. Ali must make a split-second decision: who should she believe? Her horrified husband, or her best friend? With Mike offering a very different version of events, Ali knows one of them is lying—but which? And why?

When the ensuing chaos forces her to re-examine the golden era the group shared at university, Ali realises there are darker memories too. Memories that have lain dormant for decades. Memories someone would kill to protect.

At several points in this novel, I would inwardly exclaim, "Can things get any worse for Karen?" only to get a "yes" by next chapter's end.  Events spin in a shocking downward spiral and Karen's bucolic, seeming perfect life ends up shattered.  But as things got worse with each twist and revelation, my curiosity only increased. How will all of this turn out?  

I was hooked, plain and simple. I quickly became attached to poor Karen, who got sideswiped time and time again by every cruel twist of fate. Not to say that she was a saint herself as some of her questionable and significant choices show.  

Not to give too much away, but husbands and boyfriends come out looking very badly in this novel, as do women whose lives have revolved around men.  Three female types are somewhat explored: the promiscuous, the virginal and the ambitious. All three suffer relationship-related misfortunes in different ways.  Yet in the end, female friendship is the saving grace.  There is a positive male character but interestingly, he is drawn to be rather weak and not having much agency, as though a figuratively emasculated male is the only kind of safe man to trust.  

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