Also published on this date: Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Wednesday, May 8, 2013: Maximum Shelf: Close My Eyes

St. Martin's: Close My Eyes by Sophie Mckenzie

St. Martin's: Close My Eyes by Sophie Mckenzie

St. Martin's: Close My Eyes by Sophie Mckenzie

St. Martin's: Close My Eyes by Sophie Mckenzie

Close My Eyes

by Sophie McKenzie

Award-winning author of many books for teens and children in the U.K., Sophie McKenzie makes her U.S. debut with the decidedly adult novel Close My Eyes, a fast-moving tale of psychological suspense full of twists and genuine surprises. While comparisons have been made to Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, McKenzie's page-turner is more reminiscent of the creepy Gaslight, the 1944 film that so powerfully depicted a terrorized woman it led to the term "gaslighting," a form of mental abuse wherein the victim is made to believe she is going insane. Told from the point of view of a woman whose fragile emotional state and inability to move on from a terrible trauma have rendered her tremendously vulnerable to such cruelty, Close My Eyes quickly draws readers into her world--a place where the lies are so tightly woven that reality itself starts to lose its meaning.

McKenzie's protagonist is Geniver Loxley, a novelist in her late 30s whose career and personal life have settled into a state of permanent, cloudy hold. Eight years earlier, Geniver gave birth to a stillborn child--a daughter she'd named Beth--and is still mourning the loss. Time, therapy and the sympathetic support of her best friend, Hen, have done little to alleviate Gen's depression; she is haunted by vivid dreams of her lost child that seem more real than the fog of her waking hours. While deeply affected as well, Gen's wealthy and successful husband, Art, has been able to move forward emotionally in a way that seems impossible for Gen. Though their previous attempts have been unsuccessful, Art presses a reluctant Gen to try in vitro fertilization one more time. Though she still loves her husband, it is in an abstracted way. Through Gen, McKenzie offers an excellent insight into a marriage where politeness has overtaken passion: "One day I'll talk to Art properly about it," Gen says. "He'll listen, I know he will. He'll want to make it better. Which means he will. I've never known Art to fail at anything."

While contemplating how best to "talk to Art properly" about not wanting to try IVF again, Gen receives an unexpected visitor whose information is so shocking it calls into question everything she knows to be true. The visitor is Lucy O'Donnell, the sister of the nurse who was present at Beth's birth. Lucy claims that not only is Beth alive but that Art was involved in the scheme to give away their baby and convince Gen that she had died in utero. Shocked and deeply shaken, Gen dismisses Lucy as a fortune hunter trying to extract payment for her information. But something about the woman's story--and the possibility that it might be true--lodges in her craw and she can't let it go. What disturbs her even more is Art's outraged reaction and his sudden loss of patience with her questions about the doctor and small private hospital where the baby was delivered. When Gen tries to talk to Hen about Lucy, she receives a similar response. It's all in your head is the message she gets loud and clear. And perhaps, Gen thinks, it is. After all, she has all but switched off her brain for eight years and let herself be swept under by the tidal wave of her grief. And perhaps that grief really has driven her mad.

The only person who seems to believe in Gen's sanity is Lorcan, a shady but appealing ex-friend of Art's who has a troubled past of his own. For reasons that may or may not be altruistic, Lorcan offers to help Gen investigate Lucy's story as well as track down Dr. Rodriguez, Gen's obstetrician, who seems to have vanished without a trace. But although the two traverse London looking for evidence, even Lorcan appears to be mostly humoring her, until Lucy turns up dead--the victim of a hit-and-run suspiciously similar to an accident that befell the anesthesiologist present at Gen's delivery. And although he has reasonable explanations for all of it, Art is beginning to act very strangely, disappearing at odd hours and shredding household documents. Worse, Gen begins to suspect Hen of lying to her as well.

To reveal any more is to spoil the intricate network of twists and turns that McKenzie has expertly woven into the plot. The revelations become more shocking as the novel picks up pace in the second half and even the best guessers won't see the novel's dark final twist coming. McKenzie, however, has created more than just an edge-of-your-seat suspense novel; she has effectively portrayed the psyche of a woman pushed to the brink by both grief and hope. Part of the enjoyment of Close My Eyes is the continuing question of whether or not Gen really has imagined it all--and we with her. It's a chilling and unsettling feeling that pervades this page-turner right up to its last word. --Debra Ginsberg

St. Martin's Press, $25.99, hardcover, 9781250033895, July 9, 2013

St. Martin's: Close My Eyes by Sophie Mckenzie

Sophie McKenzie: The Challenge of Writing an Adult Book

photo: Jonathan Ring

Sophie McKenzie is the bestselling author of more than 15 novels for children and teens in the U.K., including the thrillers Girl, Missing and Sister, Missing. Girl Missing was named one of Richard and Judy's Best Kids' Books, and her books have won numerous other awards and twice been longlisted for the Carnegie Medal. McKenzie lives in London and writes full-time.

Close My Eyes is full of twists, left turns and layers of deception that keep the reader guessing until the very end. Did you know how the novel was going to end when you began writing it, or were you surprised by the way the plot developed?

I began work on Close My Eyes so many years ago that I can't now remember exactly how much of the story was planned from the start! The main narrative to do with Gen's loss of her baby and what, exactly, has happened to the child was definitely always there. However, almost everything else developed as I wrote. The final page was a total surprise. I hadn't realized I was going to finish the book that way until I got there--then I went back and added additional scenes in order to make sure the ending I wanted would work.

Geniver Loxley is a complicated character; she is filled with grief and longing yet, as a writer trained to filter her life through the lens of fiction, also able to distance herself from her emotions. What was it like to inhabit this character? What aspect of Geniver was most challenging for you to write?

I loved writing from Gen's point of view. As this was my first (daunting!) excursion into the greater complexity of an adult novel, I decided to make several aspects of Gen's life similar to my own. She is a writer and a creative writing teacher because I am/have been those things, and so I didn't need to worry about getting the references right. She lives in the same town as me for similar reasons. However, Gen is very definitely not based on me at all. My biggest challenge when writing her was probably the delicate balancing act between making her sufficiently unreliable as a narrator for readers to suspect she might genuinely be unhinged, while at the same time trying to ensure she is also believable and sympathetic.

The nature of friendship--and the counterpoint between the friendships women have with one another and those they have with men--is an interesting theme in Close My Eyes. What, in your opinion, makes female friendships different from the friendships between women and men or the friendships that men have with one another?

That is a big question! There are the obvious differences, of course; I am generalizing massively here, but I do notice that with my female friends the conversations often revolve around how people feel while with men the chat generally focuses on what people do. However, with true friendships, the same qualities are always present: acceptance, loyalty and a willingness to listen and support each other. Most essentially, the two people must trust each other. In Close My Eyes, various characters keep secrets from Gen, thereby proving themselves untrustworthy. In all cases a need to save face (presented frequently as a desire to protect Gen in some way) is at the heart of their decision.

You have written series fiction and standalones for teens and for adults. I won't ask you to pick a favorite, but can you tell us what you find most rewarding--and, conversely, most challenging--about each?

I love working on all of them! The brilliant thing about writing series fiction is that each time you come to a new book, you get a chance to reconnect with the old friends you met in the one before. With standalones, there's the opportunity to start something fresh which is always really exciting. I am very much at home writing from a teenage point of view but I love the challenge of adult books, too. Essentially I don't think about the age of the reader as I write; I'm primarily writing for myself. However, I really enjoy the challenge of developing a longer story through a more complex plot and more layered characters. It's all good! --Debra Ginsberg

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