‘Soon’ by Charlotte Grimshaw

Soon

Fiction – hardcover; Jonathan Cape; 320 pages; 2013.

Charlotte Grimshaw is a lawyer-turned-writer from New Zealand with quite an extensive back catalogue to her name, but until Soon was published in the UK last year I had never heard of her.

The novel, which has reputedly been on the “bestseller list in New Zealand every week since publication there”, turned out to be a real “find”. It was such a delicious and powerful read that I’ve promptly ordered several more of Grimshaw’s novels and will look forward to reading them in due course.

Not your average summer holiday

Soon takes a time-worn, almost clichéd setting — that of a summer holiday where two lots of people happily coexist until a new person enters the scene to disturb the equilibrium — but gives it several refreshing (and dark) twists.

The first is that this is no usual set of holidaymakers — it’s the Prime Minister of New Zealand, David Hallwright, no less, and he’s spending his summer in a three-storey house by the coast with the people he holds dearest: his trophy wife, Roza, and their five-year-old son, Johnnie; his best friend Simon Lampton, who is a doctor, Simon’s wife Karen and their teenage children, Claire, Elke and Marcus; the Minister of Police, Ed Miles, and his wife Juliet; and his deputy, known as “The Cock”, and his vacuous wife Sharon.

The second is that there is a bit of a power play going on — and not in the way you might suspect. Although David and Simon are friends (“What I like about you is that you’re not political. Your mind’s on other things. That’s so refreshing to me”), they are connected in another, quite unusual, way:

When he married her, David’s second wife Roza had been keeping a secret. It was not a sensational one, as secrets go: aged sixteen, she had given birth to a baby and adopted her out. Eight years later, after the adoption and a number of foster placings had failed, the girl, Elke, had been adopted by Dr Simon Lampton and his wife Karen. In the following years, the Lamptons had come to love Elke as their own. But just before David Hallwright had been elected Prime Minister, Roza had located the child, and had introduced herself to the Lamptons (and revealed herself to David) as the birth mother.

The two mothers are now best friends — or so everyone thinks — and the two families have become close because of their shared love for Elke, who has grown into a rather beautiful, self-confident young woman. But Elke is now preparing to leave home for the first time to go to university and Karen is anxious that she will be lost to them forever. It doesn’t help that the Hallwrights are pushing Elke to come and live with them.

So before the events of the novel really get underway, Grimshaw has introduced a simmering tension between these two supposedly close families. But that’s just the half of it.

Extra twists

Additionally, there are two pivotal moments in this book that raise the tension — and the stakes — even higher.

Simon receives an unexpected phone call from a journalist researching the disappearance of a Greek-Maori woman called Mereana Kostas, the same woman that Simon once had a secret affair with. And then Simon’s older brother Ford turns up to disturb the relative peace and quiet of the holidaymakers: he’s vehemently opposed to the right-wing Government and isn’t afraid to speak his mind about the less than fair policies it has adopted.

Things really come to a head when a crime is committed, but to say any more would give the game away…

A tense read

Soon, if you haven’t guessed already, is a novel brimming with all kinds of anxieties and strains. This is mirrored in the relations between the characters, which are all very complicated and messy. There’s an interesting sub-plot between Simon and Roza, which revolves around whether they will act on their sexual attraction to one another, and another between Simon and the journalist as to whether his affair will be exposed to the world.

It’s testament to Grimshaw’s skill as a writer that she makes the reader want to keep turning the pages despite most of these characters, perhaps with the exception of Simon, being hugely unlikable. (Think The Slap but set in New Zealand.) The way in which she juggles multiple storylines between this mish-mash of characters is superb, too, so that as a reader I was constantly surprised by the unfolding of events.

Unfortunately, there was one element that I think didn’t work. This involves Roza narrating a rather menacing story to Johnnie about a badly behaved character called Soon. This has uncanny parallels to events happening in the real world, but I felt this merely got in the way of the rest of the narrative. That’s a minor quibble, however.

Politics in action

Perhaps the thing I liked most about this exhilarating novel (and exhilarating is exactly the right word to describe it because it often left me feeling breathless and on edge) is the glimpse it provides, not only of modern New Zealand society, in which the gap between rich and poor has widened, but the people in power who have helped create it.

And while I’m not a fan of political novels, per se, I found much to enjoy in this one. Despite there being an unwritten rule that house guests cannot talk politics (they’re on holiday after all), there are several eye-opening conversations between the PM and his minsters about how his party should go about winning the next election that make you realise just how cynical, manipulative and immoral modern politicians have become.

Soon is a rather seductive novel, in all senses of the word. It draws you in to a closed, protected world and shows people acting at their most primal. It’s a literary page-turner of the finest order, one that is deliciously dark, atmospheric and deeply unsettling. I won’t forget it in a hurry.

Advertisements

9 thoughts on “‘Soon’ by Charlotte Grimshaw

  1. I have this one on my ANZLitMonth agenda as well, although I may not get to it until June. Your review has increased my expectations — political and personal intrigue are just fine escapist notions for me.

    Like

  2. I’ll be interested in your take on this book, Kevin. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it — I liked the way the author explored the ideas of hypocrisy, corruption and morality, both personally and politically. It’s a very intelligent read, but definitely has elements of the suspense genre in it.

    Like

  3. I’ve had this on my tbr pile for months, and I think you’ve convinced me to give it a whirl, Kim. My favourite book so far this year has been ‘All the King’s Men’ and it sounds like this has some similarities (and if AtKM is anything to go by, politicians were just as cynical, manipulative and immoral back in the 30s and 40s as they are today).

    Like

  4. Oh, theres no doubt politicians have always been manipulative etc but in modern times, with social media & TV, they seem deliberately more so. Think you will like this book actually. I wasnt sure what to expect and read it on the basis I needed to lift my NZ quota! I was immediately hooked and really loved it. The ending is a bit funny, though…

    Like

  5. Look forward to trying this one. I remember enjoying Grimshaw’s The Night Book, where she explores a similar part of New Zealand society. Not many redeemable main characters in that one, if memory serves.

    Like

  6. Interesting that Simon’s the most likeable character, despite the affair,and the attraction to Roza – makes you wonder how bad the rest are! Definitely fancy this one!

    Like

    • This is a rare example of a book where all the characters are unlikeable but it doesn’t really matter because the story is so good. I hope you get to read it; do let me know how you got on with it if you do.

      Like

      • I will do – although I’m currently doing the TBR Double Dog Dare, which means I’m trying to read from my TBR pile for the first three months of this year (as it’s colossal!) But ARCs etc are exempt, thank goodness! But I WILL get to it, and let you know what I think!

        Like

I'd love to know what you think, so please leave a comment below

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s