The Body Lies sets itself large challenges: that fragmentary narrative, including an official complaint and some bureaucratic emails; the difficulty of using violence as a narrative device while questioning the politics of using violence as a narrative device; the task of combining the satire of the campus novel with the high drama of the thriller. Baker is a writer who can make it all work. Beyond the dubious fun of the chase, the pleasure of reading this novel is seeing writerly ambition fulfilled.
She teaches creative writing and her voice is interleaved with pieces by her class, including alarming autobiographical vignettes from one member. In the nifty pastiches of the wannabes’ efforts, it’s noticeable that they all stick to a single genre — unlike Baker, who adroitly mashes up psychological thriller and satirical campus novel.
Baker knowingly adds woman-in-peril tropes to her own protagonist’s story as she builds a slowly unspooling psychological thriller — of course the miles-from-anywhere house she rents is in a mobile-phone blackspot. But there’s something cleverer going on in The Body Lies; its clout is in the sexual politics behind its deft contrast between the fictional depiction of violence against women — as written in the postgrads’ work — and the stark, isolating reality.
Following an assault, a young novelist moves to the countryside with her son to teach a creative writing course and get a fresh start. When one student sends her chapters from his novel that have striking similarities with what happened to her, she finds herself distressed with how it ends. A powerful read.
The depiction of treachery in academic life at a rural university is very convincing and the exposition of our conflicting attitudes to violence against women is timely. The build-up of tension is excellent and the ending is well worked through. But the structure allows the writing to veer (deliberately) from the routine to the poetic in a way that is quite distracting.
This superior psychological suspense novel marks a new direction for the author of the Regency-set Longbourne, which was a Richard & Judy Book Club pick. After a sexual assault in London, a novelist working in a bookshop takes a job teaching creative writing at a Northern university, and moves with her young child. But one of her students starts to submit some disturbing material. This page-turning thriller has a sympathetic and utterly believable heroine, but it's also as an examination of how women's bodies are treated, in life and in fiction.