My edition: Paperback (proof), published on 16 July 2015 by Orion, 304 pages.
Description: Lois and Carly-May are just twelve years old when they’re abducted and imprisoned for two months.
That summer, under the watchful gaze of their kidnapper, they form a bond which will never be broken…
Decades later, both Lois and Carly-May have built new lives and identities for themselves.
Lois and Carly-May are drawn together again to face the truth of their beautiful, terrible story.
The previous novel that came highly recommended by the publicist for Pretty Is was the phenomenal Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, which is by far my favourite book of 2014, so needless to say I had high expectations when I heard her raving about Maggie Mitchell's debut!
The novel explores the fascinating concept of two child abductees reflecting back on the six weeks they spent in the woods with their kidnapper before they were rescued, and realising it was perhaps the happiest time of their lives. Then impressionable children of just 12 years old, Carly-May and Lois have grown up to become dispirited adults of 29. Leaving her legacy as beauty queen behind her, Carly-May pursued a career in acting but cannot seem to get a role beyond playing the dead girl. Lois is a professor of English, which is an admirable job yet the reader can't help but feel that there is a lot of lost potential for the former spelling-bee champion.
When Lois' semi-autobiographical novel is being made into a film and Carly-May, now going by the name of Chloe, is cast in it as a policewoman searching for the missing girls, the two are forced to revisit their brief time together as children to uncover what really happened to them that time in the woods and how it has impacted on their lives since. There are hints of Stockholm Syndrome woven throughout the novel yet reading their, undoubtedly subjective, memories the time with the kidnapper really did sound rather idyllic. And as they were unhappy in their home lives, the attention they were suddenly given and the strong bond they formed together undoubtedly played a part in the confusing aftermath of the rescue - because they didn't feel like they were saved at all, on contrary.
Psychological literary thrillers are the vampire novels of 2015 and so it is easy to become fatigued of them, however Pretty Is focuses on such a different concept that despite being slotted in the same genre, it really felt like a rather unique kind of story. I am normally not particularly interested in crime-type books, but even I was immediately swept away in the conflicting mindset of Lois and Carly-May, expecting a horrific discovery of sexual exploitation and other traumas that the women had tried their hardest to forget, but as it never came it left the fascinating question of what was really the reasoning behind the kidnapping, and of those two girls in particular?
Is it possible that the kidnapper was offering a better life than the girls had until that very moment? And does that mean that their rescue actually achieved the exact opposite? Even after turning the final page I am still not sure what the answers to those questions are and while there is certainly a lingering unease over a grown man with sister-issues kidnapping two young girls, it was intriguing to see the stereotypical kidnapping plot do a complete turn. Not to mention that the focus on Lois and Carly-May's memories of that time in the woods served as a distraction to a major event taking place in the present time, creating an unexpectedly suspenseful climax to what was already a book that kept me on the edge of my seat through-out.
Pretty Is isn't a stereotypical crime or even kidnapping novel; the unique concept and thrill of suspense that is woven throughout makes for a highly engrossing read, which will leave a lasting impression.
You can purchase the novel from Waterstones, Amazon.co.uk or your own preferred retailer.
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Many thanks to the publisher for a copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.