THE BODY LIES by Jo Baker
Despite not fitting neatly into the mystery/thriller genre, The Body Lies is one of the most tense, terrifying things I’ve ever read. It follows an unnamed narrator (a normally irritating, overused convention, which is employed here with actual purpose) who takes up a teaching position somewhere in the north of England following a violent assault in London. While at the university, she awkwardly attempts to mediate heated discussions on gender politics in her MA writing course, while receiving increasingly disturbing submissions from one of her students.
The Body Lies has a meta element that’s almost tongue in cheek; one of her students criticizes another for writing a detective novel which opens with the discovery of a dead girl, while Baker’s novel also opens with a dead female body. But this book is a series of subverted tropes, of self-conscious commentary on these common, taken-for-granted elements that comprise so many thrillers. It’s a razor sharp commentary and a compelling story all in one.
What also sets it apart from the genre is that the identity of the dead girl never really feels like the point. For the first time… probably ever reading a thriller, I cared less about the mystery and more about the safety and the sanity of the protagonist, whose experiences as a woman in academia are all chillingly relatable. This book isn’t the type of terrifying where there’s a serial killer lurking in the corner – it’s the sort of terrifying that hones in on the disturbing, oddly normalized commonalities of womanhood that are too easily accepted. I raced through this, not because I was intent on getting to the bottom of the mystery, but because of the increasing sense of crushing dread that I couldn’t escape every time I attempted to step away from this book.
If I have to nitpick, I’d say the ending was let down by a too-long resolution which insisted on wrapping up every minor subplot in a neat bow, which is probably my least favorite way to end a novel, but I loved everything else about this, and I think it’s one of the smartest, most unsettling things I’ve read in a long time, that I’d encourage literary readers and genre readers alike to pick up.
You can pick up a copy of The Body Lies here on Book Depository.