Century | 2018 (12 July) | c.400p | Review copy | Buy the book
Joey Mullin has returned home from working in Ibiza with a husband (Alfie) in tow. For the time being they must make do with lodging with Joey’s brother Jack and his pregnant wife in a large house in a smart part of Bristol. Jenna is not finding it easy to settle and it doesn’t help that she finds herself becoming fixated on her handsome neighbour, Tom, the headmaster of the local school. She just can’t stop herself watching him. But Joey isn’t alone. There are eyes on her as well and there are others in this small community who keep watch to catch out the secrets of their neighbours, some of whom are almost driven to madness.
Watching You is a fantastic novel which, I’m so pleased to say, equals Lisa Jewell’s previous novel, the superb Then She Was Gone. Lisa Jewell is the perfect observer of human nature, understanding so well fears, desires and the danger of obsession. She writes about these things so well and in Watching You, her characters are beautifully drawn, whether they’re children, men or women. We want to get to know them. We want to understand why they are behaving as they do and, when the time comes, we feel deeply for them, even fearing for them.
This is a novel with several themes and one of them is bullying and the relationship of teenagers to one another and to the adults who should be doing a better job of watching out for them. Tom’s son Freddie, Frances’s daughter Jenna are just two of the youngsters who really make Watching You stand out. They both have so much to deal with, each in their different ways. There is no black or white, just young people trying to find themselves. And the adults in their lives are no help at all.
So we have multiple stories, all threading together and mostly circling Tom, the headmaster. Tom is, for me, the least likeable person in the book (although Joey gives him a close run for his money) and his relationship with Joey is fascinating to watch develop, not least because it’s one of the ugly things that blights the lives of others. But their relationship is offset by some other quite beautiful and fragile relationships, especially between the youngsters.
The novel is held together by a series of interviews conducted by the police as they try to solve a crime that we know will happen. It’s to the credit of Lisa Jewell’s immense storytelling gift, that I had very little clue about what was going to happen until almost the very end. In fact, this is one of those wonderful novels that kept me guessing throughout, that kept surprising me in the best of ways, and rewarded my attention. The best psychological thrillers are those that are character driven, and not driven by twists or shocks, and Watching You is one of the very best I’ve read in a long time. I felt heavily invested in these marvellous characters and I loved watching them watching each other. I can’t wait for more from this wonderful, wonderful writer!
Then She Was Gone