I have previously received PR products (review copies of books) from Picador.
TW: miscarriage, abortion, post-partum depression, domestic violence.
CW: strong language, sex scenes, mention of suicidal mood.
No TWs or CWs are discussed in this review.
I’ve loved Jessie Burton since I read The Miniaturist, so I was pretty excited to finally get round to reading her latest novel, The Confession, especially as I have a signed copy! The Confession tells a story across two different time periods, 1980-83 and 2017-18. In 2018, Rose Simmons is looking for the mother that disappeared when she was a baby. In 1980, Elise Morceau bumps into novelist Constance Holden and the pair begin a turbulent relationship.
I do have a bit of a soft spot for stories told across different time periods: even though I can find split-POV confusing, the distinction between time periods helps me to distinguish, and I love working out how the stories are interlinked. While less magical than The Miniaturist, The Confession maintains the aura of mystery and suspense throughout. I did find this a bit harder to get into than Burton’s other novels, but after 100 pages, I started to fall into the story. I read this book (and it’s not a small book!) in just two sittings. My first sitting, I read 100 pages and wasn’t that gripped, but then I sat down last night and proceeded to read the following 350 pages in one go (well, with a pause for dinner with about 50 pages to go!). It’s been a long time since I devoured a book so quickly and in such a large chunk, which definitely speaks to the quality.
One of my goals at the minute is to read more LGBT books, particularly sapphic books, so I was really excited when I realised this book features a prominent sapphic relationship, and has sapphic main characters! While I don’t recall if either character explicitly labelled their sexuality as lesbian or bisexual, Constance states she is only attracted to women, and Elise has a relationship with both a man and a woman in the novel. Elise and Constance’s relationship is far from ideal, however. Constance is considerably older than Elise (who is 20 when they meet, to Constance’s 36), and the age gap, along with Connie’s success, leads to a power imbalance between the pair. I didn’t find Elise a particularly interesting character: she is described as weak, which is apt, and she also comes across as rather petulant and dependent. Constance was far more interesting to me. While not likable, she was strong, motivated, confident and aloof. Given that Elise is really the main character of her section of the story, the choice to make her the less interesting, flatter character was bold, but Burton pulled it off.
In the present day, we find Rose, in a long-term (yet stale) relationship with Joe. When Rose’s father gives her Constance Holden’s books, and tells her that Connie was the last person to have seen her mother before she disappeared, Rose becomes determined to track down Connie and learn about her mother. Because of the way the split narrative works, certain events of the 1980s are known long before they occur in the book because of the 2017-8 section. Managing this dramatic irony and still upholding an atmosphere of suspense is a tricky line to balance, navigated delightfully by Burton. I found that I saw Rose’s journey as more of a vehicle to learn more about Connie and Elise, as their storyline was definitely the focus of the story.
Burton’s writing style in all her novels, including The Confession, is competent, but somewhat unremarkable. I love her stories for their plots and their characters, but the writing style has never stood out to me as particularly unique. I do love reading different writing styles, and finding something unique and experimental, but that isn’t something I read Jessie Burton to find. Her novels are definitely easy to read, and I find them enchanting. The atmosphere in the 1980s sections of The Confession was almost reminiscent to me of Daisy Jones and the Six. The glamour, the success, and the dark undercurrent are present in both, and that’s a vibe I’m really loving at the minute. If I can blast no body, no crime and the last great american dynasty by Taylor Swift while I’m reading a book, I’m happy. (On that note, Du Maurier’s Rebecca would fit this vibe well…)
Overall, I would really recommend this book if you enjoy suspense, glamour, deception, and cross-generational stories. Burton is still one of my favourite authors, so I really hope that she’ll release a 4th adult novel soon! Have you read anything by Jessie Burton? Let me know in the comments!