Author: Rebecca Thornton / Reviewer: Maddy Manning
Synopsis: (Allen & Unwin, 2016) In 1996: Freya Seymour and Josephine Grey are invincible – beautiful and brilliant, the two best friends are on the cusp of Oxbridge, and the success they always dreamed they’d share. In 2014: Freya gets in touch, looking for a conversation Josephine has run away from for eighteen long and tortured years. Beginning with one ill-fated night, The Exclusives charts the agonising spiral of friendship gone wrong, the heartache and betrayal of letting down those closest to you and the poisonous possibilities of what we wouldn’t do when everything we prize is placed under threat. And in the end, as she realises she cannot run forever, Josephine must answer one question: is it Freya she cannot face, or is it her own darkest secret?
“No one can hurt you more than a friend” is what the cover of The Exclusives claims… but reading it might be able to. The book alternates between 2014 when Josephine Grey worked as an archaeologist, and 1996 when she was in her final year of high school in London. She receives an email from a friend she has been avoiding for the past ten years in the first chapter, and this triggers Josephine to unearth the memories of a night out on the town she’s buried, covered in concrete, and built a temple of denial on.
You know from the get-go that more happened on this night then Josephine seems to be conveying. However, the rest of the book is spent working it out and with so much suspense that, upon its unveiling, you’re left feeling a little underwhelmed – despite the event’s gravity. You’re waiting for this pivotal plot point that will reveal a catastrophic moment in the story, and you’re waiting, and you’re still waiting, and by the time you’re done waiting you’ve come up with almost every conceivable option that it’s practically impossible to be blindsided.
The metaphor of Josephine working as an archaeologist, digging up the past and simultaneously excavating her own, is a nice, relatively subtle, comparison that Rebecca Thornton allows the reader to make on their own, rather than beating them over the head with it. However, throughout the re-telling of a senior year full of girls so conniving they make Regina George look like an angel, there are so many low points, with so few ‘fetch’ moments that it can get mildly depressing.
The book does have commendable qualities. Whilst Josephine expresses her paranoia regarding her fear that she may wake up one day and spontaneously become the same as her mother—a paranoid schizophrenic—the reader begins to question the validity of her concern. This distrust regarding the reliability of Josephine’s narration provides the book with another layer of mystery. You constantly question whether what she is describing is actually happening or whether it is a figment of her imagination, and this incites curiosity.
The Exclusives also comments on very serious themes that deserve more discussion such as sexuality, mental illness, and drug use. That said, I wouldn’t recommend reading it after you’ve had a blue with your best mate.
Rating: 2 stars out of 5
Connect with the publisher, Allen & Unwin – here
Connect with the author, Rebecca Thornton – at her Twitter account
Madison Manning grew up in Brisbane, and is currently studying English and History within an Education degree.
She likes to distract herself with all things artsy as much as she can; reading, writing, drawing, and playing music (violin, guitar and singing).
Madison is in a band called Stringy Business with a fellow Brisbane boy, and has recently started up an Instagram for some writing. Connect with Madison at the links above.