Fuller’s (Swimming Lessons, 2017, etc.) latest novel is seductive on the outside, but hidden within is a sinister story that considers the terrifying lengths people will go to escape their pasts.
It’s the summer of 1969, and for the first time in 39 years, Frances Jellico is free of any routine. One month ago, she buried her mother, the callous woman she’d been bound to since birth. When she’s commissioned to survey and write a report on the garden architecture of Lyntons, an old English country house outside London, Frances leaves her home, and turbulent past, to settle into the mansion’s furnished attic for the summer. From the moment she meets Cara and Peter, the attractive couple staying in the rooms below hers, Frances is besotted. Peter, she learns, has been hired to assess the foundation and state of the house, which, after years of neglect following the war, is in poor condition. Frances becomes enraptured by the carefree, unbridled passion Peter and Cara seamlessly exude. All her life, she has yearned for that sense of freedom—to be unburdened of her loneliness, her insecurities, her endless guilt. After discovering a peephole in her bathroom floor, Frances takes to watching their intimate lives play out from above. Equally intrigued by Frances, the couple invites her into their lives, eager to share their desires and secrets with a captive audience. The three spend their languid days indulging in decadent meals, drinking, sunbathing, and reveling in the frivolity of one another’s company. But as Fuller’s novel progresses, Frances’ friendship with the couple turns claustrophobic. The stories Cara and Peter have fed Frances slowly begin to unfurl, revealing a labyrinth of deceptions that Frances finds herself in the middle of. When strange things begin to happen throughout the house, Frances realizes she knows nothing about Cara and Peter. Much like Lyntons, they’re “beautiful on the surface, but look a little closer and everything is decaying, rotting, falling apart.” In the vein of Shirley Jackson’s bone-chilling The Haunting of Hill House, Fuller’s disturbing novel will entrap readers in its twisty narrative, leaving them to reckon with what is real and what is unreal.
An intoxicating, unsettling masterpiece.