#SheReviews Greenwich Park by Katherine Faulkner

February 24, 2022

Those in the upper echelons of a rigidly class-structured society, such as that which exists in modern-day England, appear to breathe rarefied air, and have lives that are seemingly effortless and fluid in nature.

Such is certainly the case for young, highly-privileged mother-to-be, Helen, her seemingly devoted husband, Daniel, Helen’s ‘posh’ brother, Rory, and his glamorous wife, Serena. These two couples, living lives that many of those downtrodden in society would envy (or would they?), are the protagonists in English journalist and novelist, Katherine Faulkner’s, cutting edge debut thriller novel, “Greenwich Park”.

In this cumulatively fast-paced thriller, we find that Helen and Daniel, an upper-middle-class couple, both Cambridge University educated, are living a markedly enviable life (or is it?), residing in the “exclusive” enclave of London known as Greenwich. Their ostentatious and “beautiful” house was left to Helen in her parents’ will, and is now a ‘hive of activity’, as Daniel has insisted that it be rigorously renovated.

Helen is now quite pregnant, after previously having had four miscarriages (the ashes of these babies was scattered in Helen and Daniel’s picture-perfect back garden). Now on maternity leave (Helen works in advertising), Helen finds herself at a loose end, and that even her work colleagues are reluctant to meet up with her for coffee.

Rory and Serena also live in Greenwich, and Serena is due to give birth “just two weeks apart” from Helen. 

Helen, Daniel, Rory and Serena were at Cambridge University at the same time, Daniel and Rory studying architecture. Rory has inherited the “family firm”, an architecture practice called Haverstock and Company, which is located in Greenwich, from his late father, and Daniel has been working there with Rory the past few years. Serena is a well-established photographer, and has a ‘hip’ studio at Greenwich. 

Helen and Rory have a younger, not-so-conforming brother, Charlie, who, despite his socially upper-middle-class ‘breeding pedigree’, is living in a morosely run-down block of flats in east London, and working in a job his parents would most definitely not have approved of. As Serena muses to herself regarding Helen’s views on Charlie, “I don’t think she can understand why, when he is nearly thirty, her little brother is still living in some sort of scruffy flat in Hackney, working as a DJ in a club the authorities have repeatedly threatened to shut down”.

Charlie has an on/off again girlfriend called Katie, who works as a methodical, yet caring, journalist for a newspaper.

When Helen begins attending not-so-invigorating antenatal classes in Greenwich, she finds herself meeting an outspoken, crass and non-rule-abiding (Helen’s new ‘friend’ unashamedly drinks and smokes while pregnant) fellow classmate, the irreverent, seemingly carefree and younger single mum-to-be, Rachel. Rachel is quite obviously – as far as social standing in society goes – not in Helen’s ‘league’, yet the two strike up an unlikely friendship. Still, Helen finds Rachel’s ways to be irritating and abrasive. She confides in Daniel how she sees Rachel, and later regrets doing so. As Helen reflects, “I wish I hadn’t gone on so much about her drinking, her smoking, her phone case, her clothes, her loud voice”.

Eerily and disconcertingly, Helen finds herself running into Rachel quite frequently – almost as if these ‘meetings’ had somehow been orchestrated and planned. Things reach a reverberating and menacing climax when Rachel taps on Helen and Daniel’s window one night, as Daniel is preparing a special anniversary dinner, and, once inside, Helen and Daniel are horrified to see that Rachel has “red welts” on her neck. Rachel will not reveal who has assaulted her, but asks to stay the night.

Rachel, however, will not leave Helen and Daniel’s house, and seems to become a complacently-permanent ‘guest’.  When she accompanies Helen and Daniel to a birthday dinner for Rory at his home, her presence seems to cause Rory to accidentally drop precious glassware. Still, however, Rachel keeps her cards close to her chest about who she really is, and where she has come from.

Later, while Rachel is still firmly ensconced in Helen and Daniel’s home, and after Helen has found some disturbing items in Rachel’s room, including Daniel’s missing laptop, Helen and Daniel have a “An old-fashioned Bonfire Night party”. The eclectic guest list includes Rory, Serena, Charlie and his friends from his work, the inquisitive Katie, and of course the ‘houseguest from Hell’, Rachel (she is messy, slothful and clearly hiding something that the others are ‘in the dark’ about). 

At the ‘happening’ party, Helen (at her wit’s end) defiantly confronts the “waif-like” Rachel, after Helen thinks darkly to herself, “I look at her and, at last, I see her for what she is. A fraud, a meddler. A source of trouble….I just want her gone. For good”. Helen brusquely tells Rachel at the party, “we’re not friends. We never were….I want you to leave, tonight, and not come back”. After this bitingly bitter confrontation between Helen and Rachel, Rachel appears to have mysteriously (all her belongings disappear) and abruptly left their lives for good. Now it seems that Helen, Daniel and the others can all ‘breathe’ again – or can they?

No one hears from Rachel after her departure, apart from a text message she sends (or did she?) to Helen, to say that she is going to her Mum’s. Soon, Rachel’s disappearance from Helen and the other’s lives’ becomes a routine missing person’s case, and then quickly and forcefully becomes a far-reaching murder investigation. What did Rachel really want from Helen, Daniel, Rory, Serena and Charlie? As Helen comes to realise after Rachel’s departure, “I needed to know the truth. I needed to know who Rachel really was. And what it was she wanted from me”. 

Are Helen’s, Daniel’s, Rory’s and Serena’s lives’ really as privileged and effortless as they appear to be? Are Helen, Daniel, Rory and Serena really living lives that are to be envied by those on the lower rungs of society’s class-driven ladder, such as the seemingly lost and bereft Rachel?

Katherine Faulkner has written a novel of great intellect, with powerful observations on the human psyche and the (stifling and outdated?) social structures that still exist in modern-day England. I found “Greenwich Park” to be be highly captivating, mesmerizing and deeply enthralling. As I found myself immersed further and further into this at-times scary, but always classy, contemporary thriller, I found myself more and more intrigued, shocked and well-informed. 

I highly recommend this scorchingly well-written novel by Katherine Faulkner, and I can’t wait to see what she writes next.

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