REVIEW: White Bodies, Jane Robins

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Felix and Tilda seem like the perfect couple: young and in love, a financier and a beautiful up-and-coming starlet. But behind their flawless facade, not everything is as it seems. Callie, Tilda's unassuming twin, has watched her sister visibly shrink under Felix's domineering love. She has looked on silently as Tilda stopped working, nearly stopped eating, and turned into a neat freak, with mugs wrapped in Saran Wrap and suspicious syringes hidden in the bathroom trash. She knows about Felix's uncontrollable rages, and has seen the bruises on the white skin of her sister's arms.  Worried about the psychological hold that Felix seems to have over Tilda, Callie joins an Internet support group for victims of abuse and their friends. However, things spiral out of control and she starts to doubt her own judgment when one of her new acquaintances is killed by an abusive man. And then suddenly Felix dies--or was he murdered? 

Since the success of The Girl on the Train, publishers have been competing to put the most thrillers about troubled women on our shelves. I mean, seriously, sit for a moment and think back over the current backlog of female-led thrillers and try to think of a protagonist that isn’t battling (or rather, neglecting to battle) some sort of demons.
Struggling? You’re not the only one.
There’s a myriad of them out there and there seems to be a pattern growing in which, if the plot is not propelled forwards by an ├╝ber-masculine male police detective with his shit together, then the main character is most likely going to be a unlikable woman who you can’t really trust.
Seriously. Go and check your books now because, if they were published in the last five or so years, they are definitely one or the other.
White Bodies, obvious thanks to the fact that I am choosing to make this point, went down the second route. Callie is obsessed (honestly, rather incestuously obsessed to be honest. It went marching past sibling obsessed and just kept going) with her far more fabulous, far more successful, far more beautiful sister Tilda and becomes worried when she starts dating a man who seems to be controlling.
I say “seems to be controlling” purposefully because, at the start of the plot and when Callie has met the man a total of two times, apart from the appearance of a bruise on Tilda’s arm and a few rather odd comments, he doesn’t seem that bad. I mean, at least not bad enough to accuse him of being a domestic abuser.
To his face.
Fuck the consequences, right? I mean, if he isn’t one, you have pretty much screwed up your relationship with your sister and her new man for good, but even if he is one, what is going to do to Tilda in retaliation of a statement like that???
For me to feel drawn to a character, I have to understand their decision-making. I don’t have to agree, I literally just have to understand how they made the jump and yet, every single thing that Callie did made me nearly scream in frustration and bewilderment.
To make matters worse, Callie was so obsessed with her sister that she had the habit of eating things belonging to her - pages of her diary, shedded skin, her hair. As a sufferer of a chronic stomach condition, I can’t even stomach the thought of people eating actual food sometimes, so this aspect of the plot well and truly pushed me over the edge.
I can deal with a lot of shit, but that is not one of them.
Sometimes, in moments such as these, I am tempted to toss the mystery-thriller genre to one side, never to return. The non-food eating was just the cherry on the top of a rotting cheesecake of poor writing, implausible dialogue and a cast of characters that were little more than tired archetypes. Which, I suppose, makes it exactly the same as all of the other subpar thrillers I have read over the years.
Just with an extra, truly sickening twist.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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