Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Wednesday, 16 September 2020

"The confession" by Jessie Burton (Pan, 2019)

The story hops between 2 timelines, making cliff-hangers easy.

1980. Elise gets picked up by an older woman, Connie, a novelist, on Hamstead Heath. Elise moves in. Connie's finishing a novel - "Green Rabbit". Elise has identity issues. After a life modelling session, when the students had gone "she would creep back inside the workshop, circling the easels where the day's work had been left. She was on a hunt for her self, although she was the one who provided the map. She would wander the paper forest".

Elise and Connie go to LA because Connie's first book's being filmed. There's a lot about LA and the excitement over fify-something Barbara, the lead actress. I suppose if Elise has identity issues, celebrity and being surrounded by actors might confuse her. Elise in LA feels neglected, lacking in self-esteem. She's articulate and analyical so it's surprising that she takes into account the new situation - LA and celebs. She's only young though.

Elise offers herself to Shara (Connie's old friend, married to Matt, a failed screenwriter) as a model. It helps with her identification issues. She finds out from Shara about Connie. She gets surfing lessons with Matt. After a misscarriage Matt and Shara have drifted apart. Barbara's ex beats her up. She runs to Connie for shelter. Elise sees that Connie and Barbara are very close. She and Matt leave together (unconvincingly - they each have so much to lose).

Elise has post-natal depression in NY. She leave Matt to stay with Costa Rican friend Yolanda. Matt calls Connie in London, asking her to help. She flies over and tells Elise to give the baby up for adoption. A week later Elise disappears. Later Connie spends a month looking for her.

2017. We're in the head of Elise's daughter, Rose. She's been bought up by her father because Elise left them when Rose was 1. When she's 34 her father Matt tells her that her mother was the lover of Constance, an author. Her father marries in his fifties, has cancer, moves to France. Kelly's an old friend of Rose. She has a little daughter Molly and is expecting again.

Rose feels her life's going nowhere. She's lacking in self-esteem. She manages to become Connie's maid (the details of the trick described in too much detail). She uses the name Laura, creating a new persona. I like the game between Connie and Laura.

Rose types in Connie's new novel (her first for 30 years set in 1600s America, involving motherhood/abortion) a few pages at a time, analysing it for clues. Rose leaves Jo over Xmas, shelters with Connie, discovers she's pregnant. Will she keep the child? Connie invites her to stay. The novel's done. Then Barbara exposes Rose's deception. Connie throws her out, invites her back 5 days later. Rose has an abortion. At the end she leaves for Costa Rica, friends with Connie again. Connie promises to phone Matt.

Here's a compare/contrast table

Elise, 1980-Rose, 2017-
Mother died when Elise youngMother (Elise) left when Rose a baby
Has identity issuesFeels she's drifting
Moves in with Connie, who's finishing "Green Rabbit"Starts working for Connie, who's finishing a novel
Goes with Connie to LA
Leaves Connie for Matt
Finds out from Shara about Connie's pastFinds out from Deborah about Connie's past
Leaves MattLeaves Joe
Thrown out by Connie
Stays with coffee-bar workmate YollandaStays with coffee-bar workmate Zoe
Gets a cheque from ConnieGets money from Joe
Leaves her babyHas an abortion
Disappears
Runs away from situationsEscapes from stale, self-restricting situations

Some fragments caught my eye -

  • "she could see her trying to hide a yearning for answers" (really?)
  • "Love, how might it feel. Elise believed that for all her life she had been tiptoe-ing round the edge of a volcanic crater whose depths she could not quantify but which was full of something powerful, something she had never been shown before. Down in that darkness were many happy souls but many dead bodies"
  • "going down the stairs, the bags bumping her hips like the buckets of a milkmaid"
  • "The vulnerability she had displayed under that urbane intellectual roughness was making me fell guilty and protective" (surprisingly articulate, though Elise and Rose are all the way through the book)
  • "hot tears welling in her eyes" (where else would they well?)
  • "and patted herself inconsciously" (unselfconsciously?)
  • "watching the teabags bloat to the surface"

Connie's 2nd book contained the quote "Self-consciousness in a woman's life is a plague of locusts". She seemed to go reclusive after the film, which was a success - an oscar for Barbara. Connie likes being in control of relationships, which makes love problematic.

All the females give their views on motherhood.

One of the revelations seems to be that Rose started by seeking her Mother then ended up by finding her Self, but that seemed to be a theme all the way through.

Other reviews

  • Alfred Hickling (What one notices here, however, is a more free-flowing aspect to her prose, which is plainer and less obstructed by overworked passages than her earlier work. [] an understated triumph)
  • goodreads
  • Olivier Fricot
  • Anna Luce (The premise of The Confession is one that has been done time and again. A young-ish woman forms a bond with an older woman, the latter is often famous (she can be an actress like in The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo or a writer such as in The Thirteenth Tale) or merely involved in some mystery of sorts (The Brimstone Wedding). The older woman will often confide in the younger one, who in her turn will find herself re-assessing her often until then unfulfilling existence. These books often implement a dual timeline to tell both of these women’s stories and towards the end a big secret will be revealed. So yes, I knew that this book was threading familiar paths…still, I hoped that it would give this scenario or these dynamics a new spin…(it didn’t). [] rather than creating a narrative in which there is room for different perspectives regarding certain topics, it goes on a self-righteous spiel. We get it, this is a truly feminist book. [] Between its dichotomous arguments, its poorly developed characters, its uneven tone, and its propensity for melodrama it just didn’t work for me. There are so many books that use a similar premise with much better results…)

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