Review published on February 2, 2018.
Last year, lawyer Gillian McAllister released her debut novel, Everything But the Truth, a tautly crafted domestic noir, which promised a bright future for this new author, and now, in her second novel, she seems to have already delivered on that promise.
The novel begins with a very believable and plausible scene, as Joanna Oliva shares a night out with her best friend Laura, only to be harassed by a man they meet. As she bids farewell to Laura and makes her way along the canal towpath to the train station, Joanna is aghast when she sees a figure she believes to be the man from the club racing towards her. With little time to think and terrified as to what the man will do to her, she reacts instinctively, pushing the man, who lands motionless on the floor. It is at this point she has a decision to make: she can either ring the police and confess the crime or walk away and pretend it didn’t happen. But even as she weighs up her options, has she left it too late?
It is from here that the story really takes flight, with McAllister using a dual narrative to play out both possible eventualities: Reveal, in which we see Joanna hand herself in, and Conceal, in which she abandons the scene of the crime. The two storylines run in parallel, and whilst I’ve sometimes struggled with novels that juggle competing plots, I felt that McAllister differentiated her narratives really successfully from beginning to end, not only in terms of the contrasting events, but subtly and very skilfully in the alternate development of her characters and their emotional responses and reactions. In particular, in the character of Reuben, Joanna’s husband, I thought McAllister excelled in plotting these two differing realities, and what is so impressive in her writing is that she manages to make the reader feel very tangible yet different emotions and reactions in each of the storylines. Indeed, I felt McAllister’s storytelling to be extremely affective and engaging, not only with regard to Joanna herself, but also more abstractly in terms of conjuring a very oppressive sense of freedom and its loss. The writing really is very powerful at times, and in the scenario McAllister depicts and the character of Joanna she has created a truly universal and imaginable dilemma for readers to engage with. As a lawyer too, she manages to offset the emotion and drama of the story with the sobriety and pragmatism of the law, drawing into question the legal and ethical standpoints of the situation as well, all of which makes this a truly ripe novel for reading groups.
I enjoyed following both storylines across the novel and was pleased that even within the Reveal subplot the story wasn’t clear-cut. I felt there were a few holes in the Conceal plot but the paranoia and tension of this subplot, along with the depiction of Reuben and Joanna’s relationship brings the narrative into its own. I was always intrigued to see how the storylines would play out independently and how the whole would come together at the end, and although it wasn’t the ending I had expected or would have preferred, I think the conclusion only adds to the moral ambiguities of the story and the book’s ability to create discussion and debate.
For me, this is a really superb piece of storycraft coupled with a really intriguing conundrum, which makes for a completely gripping read. It is certainly one of my favourite reads this month and I’m sure I’ll be thinking about it for a long while yet.
Jade Craddock 5/5
Anything You Do Say by Gillian McAllister
Penguin 9781405928274 pbk Jan 2018