Review of Exquisite, by Sarah Stovell


Tho’ I’d intended Exquisite for my Audible travelling book, it took such a hold on me that I had to stay home to finish it on the kindle amidst the security of my couch. Alice Dark, a 20-something living in Brighton with a messy & unfocussed life goes on a week’s writing course in the wilds of Northumberland (Sarah Stovell lives in Hexham – after reading Paula Hawkins’ Into the Water, I’ve put that town on my to-visit list) with 40ish Bo Luxton, a successful novelist who lives in the Lake District with two children & a very boring older husband. Rocket fuel’s less volatile than the chemistry between Bo & Alice. On (what seemed to me) rather slender evidence, Bo finds Alice a brilliant new writer & Alice thinks Bo the mentor & guide she needs to discover her talent & turn her life around & ditch her layabout painter boyfriend. Later Gus goes away for few days & Alice journeys to the Wordsworth country to spend time with Bo, where they commence a passionate affair, A small legacy enables Alice to undertake a move to the Lake District to be close to Alice. Then, at mid-point, what seemed to be an all-consuming love story takes a violent (literally) new course into a she said/she said tale of total misunderstanding or deception. Someone is delusional, or lying. Because Bo & Alice alternate telling the story in 1st-person, either could be an unreliable narrator, & both have childhood abuse & serious mother issues (the Audible reader gives Bo’s mother a brilliantly evil dialect) in their backstories that could account for serious mental instability. As both Alice & Bo are writers, each attempts to deal with their conflict by embarking on a novel which the reader will suspect may be this very one. Now that is a hook! Sarah Stovell cannot quite sustain the same drive in the 2nd part & becomes mired in some difficulties of plot (no, Alice would nave have deleted Bo’s emails, whatever happens to their relationship. Trust me: even if we can’t bear to read the leftovers from broken relationships, we leave them on the server.) Also I didn’t really expect violence, even tho’ we know from the start that somebody will end up in prison. But having lived 45 years in Iowa City, I found this story of a student’s crush on a famous writer & the messy outcome very believable. (By Iowa Writers’ Workshop standards, Bo & Alice are pretty ordinary.) I’d hold @ 4 stars because Exquisite starts as a better love story than it ends as a thriller, but strongly recommend it as a breathless read & shall look forward eagerly to Sarah Stovell’s next offering.