The People at Number Nine by Felicity Everett
by Amy Pirt
I have to confess: on first receiving The People at Number Nine, I was worried that I was about to read The Girl on the Train (TGOTT) No. 2. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, as I enjoyed TGOTT very much, but it’s hard to miss the number of thrillers which have been released in its wake, as publishers hope to capitalise on the success of its literary forebear. Thanks are due to Everett, however, who not only has chosen to branch out and use the term ‘The People’, as opposed to ‘The Girl’, in her title, but who has also written an unmistakably great thriller.
What I love about this book is the buzz it has already generated on Twitter (think what will happen come publication day: there will be a whole swarm of booky bees gunning for Gav and Lou, or slagging off Neil and Sara!). Just last night, I was debating with several people about which side I was on, and it was so interesting to see who supported whom, and the topics which came up: parenting, home education, pretentiousness.
So we have two couples: firstly, Sara and Neil, a copywriter and a housing association CEO respectively. Secondly, we have Gav and Lou, and their lovable children, Dash, Arlo and Zuleika. (Yes, Zuleika, last seen in the title of a Max Beerbohm novel circa 1910.) Gav and Lou are artists, darling: Gav’s medium is plaster, and possibly paperclips, and Lou’s is short film. In their favour, they bring joy and vitality to Sara’s and Neil’s lives; previously, the only friends they had were dull Carol and duller Simon. But that, to me, is their only plus point. Reader, they are UNBEARABLY pretentious. Their kids’ names, their jobs, their deliberately shabby house all suggest that they think they are better than everyone else. What’s more, they see nothing wrong with using Sara and Neil for free childcare and a loan for Lou’s film, and as a substitute school. Their behaviour, quite frankly, borders on child abuse at times. And it gets worse……
Many people have come out and said on Twitter (listen to me, talking about these characters as though they were real!) that they think Sara and Neil are worse people than Gav and Lou. They feel that the former couple are, in fact, the pretentious ones, whereas at least the latter do not lie about just how crap they are. But reader, it doesn’t really matter whose side you’re on…..as long as you pick one, and get talking about this book!
My only criticism about The People at Number Nine is that, at times, the writing felt a bit self-conscious. But otherwise, this is a very fine thriller.
Many thanks to Kate Mills at Story HQ for the review copy.