Fan of psychological dramas that will keep you on edge? Then this is the book for you

 

‘Clever, compelling and utterly captivating’ was how author Caroline Smailes described Elizabeth Forbes’ Nearest Thing to Crazy. This powerfully frustrating novel is exhausting, gripping, and painfully addictive to read. The characters are written and moulded into the novel in such a compelling style that the reader can’t help but get wrapped up in this fictional world, and fictional is the keyword.

The opening chapter presents such an ordinary scene, friends eating a Sunday lunch in the midst of summer, laughing, relaxed, completely at ease, until those ‘blood-red’ high-heeled shoes clicked up the steps to the terrace, and unbeknownst to them, it was the day their sanity and loyalty would be tested to the uttermost lengths.

Forbes is clever in how she uses two narrators. The story is told primarily through the eyes of Cass. The sensible, middle-aged mother, who loves her family, makes her money through her gardening business and leads a relatively normal life. Then there is Ellie, the glamorous, young new neighbour — whose voice comes through in snippets throughout the novel. However, it is enough for us to question who or what we believe. Forbes uses the interesting technique of not revealing Cass’ name until a good way into the novel as ‘homage to Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca’. Famously, the name of du Maurier’s narrator is never revealed, leaving her clouded in mystery; and she manages to maintain her innocence and invisible-esque personality right to the closing scene.

Forbes’ Ellie therefore acts as ‘Rebecca’ the tormented, dead wife who breathes ‘life and vibrancy into the plot’. Ellie cleverly manages to seduce the reader through her intimate, casual, gossipy style, and Cass alienates the reader by seemingly becoming increasingly erratic.

Craziness and doubting one’s own mind is a key theme weaved throughout Forbes’ narrative. There are many different connotations to the lexeme ‘crazy’ which makes it all the more intriguing, as it suggests there is always more than one answer, with nothing being as it seems. Forbes notes how ‘one person’s crazy can be another person’s normal’. That is disturbing, confusing, and makes a person question what actually can be classed as normal. The type of crazy that Forbes explores is the form of mental abuse referred to as ‘Gaslighting’. Gaslighting is where information is ‘twisted or spun, selectively omitted to favour the abuser, or false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity’.

This is essentially what made the novel so compelling. I was so desperate to shake Dan, make him see the truth, and I shared Cass’ pent-up feelings of frustration, anger and humiliation resulting in her increasing isolation from her husband, daughter and friends.  Forbes explores how difficult it is to prove you are not crazy; if you are hysterical, there is seemingly no question, and if you are calm you are ‘disassociated’. Loyalty and trust is put to the ultimate test through the Gaslighting technique which is so clever and deceptive that it manages to make a truly strong, masterful psychological drama, that has you gripped until the truth is (perhaps slightly anticlimactically) finally revealed.