Publication date: 1st August 2013
Precious Thing, the debut novel from Colette Mcbeth, an ex-news correspondent and graduate of the Faber Academy Writing course, whose alumni also include S. J. Watson and Rachel Joyce, is a psychological thriller about the intense friendships that teenage girls can form and what can happen when the pressures of adult life intrude.
When Rachel, chubby and awkward, started a new school and was immediately taken under the wing of the ice-cool and unattainable Clara, the pair became inseparable. Fast forward ten years and Rachel has become a successful TV reporter with a loving boyfriend, Clara has spent seven years undergoing psychiatric treatment and travelling, and the friendship has altered irreparably. Invited back to Brighton to celebrate Clara’s birthday, Rachel is irritated but not unduly worried when her friend doesn’t show up – until she is asked to cover a story about a missing woman and discovers that it’s Clara.
Structured as a letter from Rachel to her errant friend, Precious Thing charts the investigation into Clara’s disappearance and looks back at the disintegration of the friendship that had once seemed indestructible. Whilst it requires a certain suspension of disbelief, as with a lot of thrillers, the novel has a certain unputdownable quality. The flashbacks to the early days of the friendship, which could have been a distraction from the main narrative, actually provides as many revelations as the present day story and together they add up to a fairly satisfying whole.
My main reservations about the novel are due to the characterisation of the two women. Just as I struggled to see the attraction of Biba in Erin Kelly’s The Poison Tree, I couldn’t see the appeal of Clara. Flighty and self-centered, she made me mildly stabby for most of the book, whilst the adult Rachel had much the same effect. Some of the characters were more successful – Rachel’s alcoholic mother was wonderfully horrible – but in a novel focused on two main figures, it’s slightly off-putting to not warm to either of them.
This issue with the characterisation, some obvious sign-posting of a couple of the shocks and a frankly depressing ending might mean that Precious Thing won’t make my top ten thrillers list*, but I’d still recommend it to people wanting a gripping and twisty thriller to read on a rainy afternoon.
*note to self: make one of these.
Thanks to Headline for sending me a review copy.