CONSENT by Annabel Lyon
Well, this was a weird one and its relatively low Goodreads rating is hardly a mystery; what I’m finding more difficult is talking about how brilliant I thought it was. Due to its title I was expecting Consent to be a book about sexual violence, which seems like a reasonable expectation, so I think it’s good to say upfront that it’s not at all — instead it’s a sort of domestic drama about two sets of sisters, Sara and Mattie (Sara is older and cares for her intellectually disabled younger sister) and Saskia and Jenny (twins).
I’m not going to say anything about the plot, because reading the summary gives away a good chunk of the book, which I found sort of odd. It does take quite a while for Annabel Lyon to get to ‘the point,’ so to speak, but to summarize what happens at 20% is to do a huge disservice to the preamble, which, far from being irrelevant, is a wonderfully mesmerizing and offbeat introduction into these characters’ lives. This was one of the most pleasurable books I’ve read in ages; Lyon’s writing goes down easy but there’s also something acerbic just below the surface. The story itself twists and turns, but it’s still more literary than thriller; the mystery aspects are almost window dressing to the darker, weirder thing living at this book’s center.
I can imagine what the critiques of this book look like: unfocused, joyless, slow, unresolved, odd. It’s not for everyone. It has no interest in answering the reader’s questions. But still it’s a striking, affecting examination of obligation and shame and guilt. I don’t really see it advancing to the Women’s Prize shortlist, but it’s one of the smartest and most confident books I’ve read in a while and destined to be one of my personal favorites off the list.