2.5 stars rounded upwards.
The Things We Do To Our Friends is a debut thriller by newbie Heather Darwent. Our protagonist is Clare, a young woman who’s studying art history at a university in Edinboro. She’s new and knows no one, but is soon swept up in a small, elite group of students she meets in one of her classes. Before she knows it, they are her main curriculum, and her classes become secondary.
My thanks go to Net Galley and Random House Ballantine for the invitation to review. This book is for sale now.
At the outset it’s easy to relate to Clare, who tells us her story using the first person limited. She has never lived here before, and she doesn’t have a lot of resources. She gets a job at a nearby bar, and the everyman proprietor, Finn, punctuates the story now and then with an objective take on Clare’s life and her new friends. She is soon invited to join a clique of students that are flashier, louder, and more confident than most of her classmates, and she wants desperately to become one of them. Tabitha is the ringleader, and it is she that Clare most wants to please.
The opening chapters here make me wonder if we are about to rehash Ruth Ware’s most recent mystery, The It Girl. The elements are certainly there. But there’s an undertone that builds here, teasingly referencing Clare’s unfortunate past. We don’t know much except that she’s estranged from her parents, who don’t want to hear from her.
That can’t be good.
The clique goes to Tabitha’s family home in France over the winter break, and Clare is thrilled to be included. But while they are there, she is pressured to join with them on a moneymaking venture that isn’t entirely legal. They let her know they are aware of her past, so she’d better cooperate.
Here is where the book starts to lose me. Clare is essentially being extorted, and yet her emotional attachment to the group only intensifies. At one point, she tells us that she sometimes forgets whose skin is whose, so tightly bonded are they, and in particular, she and Tabitha. But this makes no sense. Tabitha has threatened to harm her, as have the others. Why does she love them all the more for it?
More and more tidbits from Clare’s past are revealed, and yet Clare herself isn’t developed much. Neither is anybody else. We are told a lot, but shown only a little. I love books that are about character, and if there’s not much plot, I’m fine with that, but these characters are all static. At the 50 percent mark, I become impatient and skip to 62 percent; from there, I read to 72 percent, which is where things should begin to feel urgent, but they don’t. I skip again to 90 percent and read the ending. I seldom skip anything when reading, and on the occasions when I have done so, I sometimes find things when I skim the last half that convince me to go back and read it completely. That didn’t happen here. There are loose threads dangling, and plot elements that appear to have no purpose. Worst of all—and to be fair, this is probably not the author’s doing, but it rankles, nevertheless—is that this weak tale of warped humanity is billed as a “feminist page-turner,” which is what drew my interest initially, and as a lifelong, card-carrying feminist, I can assure you that this is absolutely not that.
I cannot recommend this book to you.