The Book of You is a terrifying psychological thriller about obsession and power, perfect for fans of Gone Girl and Before I Go to Sleep. We’ve put ten questions about the book to author Claire Kendal.
Tell us about The Book of You.
It’s the story of Clarissa, a woman who is being stalked. Before the police can help her, she needs evidence. So to gather this evidence, she records all of her encounters with this man in a notebook, addressing her comments to him.
Why this particular story?
What happens to my heroine can happen to anyone – I think a lot of people will know what it’s like to be the object of unwanted attention. It’s usually not as extreme as what Clarissa goes through, but stalking can come about so unexpectedly, and get out of control so quickly. It’s a deeply disturbing and frightening thing, and it can completely take over the life of a victim. The options that somebody has in this situation are starkly limited. Clarissa does everything in her power to fight back, taking seriously any piece of advice she can find. But she has good reasons for feeling that there’s a high threshold before the police and legal system can take effective action. Readers may be frustrated by how narrow her options are – she certainly is. I tried very hard to make what happens to her feel real and believable.
The believability is what makes it so scary. Did you mean for the book to be so terrifying?
I did, yes. I wanted the novel to be frightening because its subject matter is frightening. But I wanted the reader’s fear to be generated by the situation rather than by any tricks or twists I was pulling as a writer. I wanted The Book of You to be compelling and suspenseful but I also wanted to be true to my heroine, to the story I was telling, and to the reader.
What other writers influenced The Book of You?
There are so many. I really love Dickens, and I was thinking a lot about Bleak House while I was writing The Book of You. I’m fascinated by the way Dickens entwines a third person narrative about the law courts with his heroine’s intimate first person story. I wanted the reader to wonder what the third person world of the rape and kidnapping trial in which Clarissa is a juror could have to do with her exceedingly private stalker diary. For a long time, also, I’ve been haunted by John Fowles’s The Collector, where the story is driven by one character’s delusional view of another and his complete inability to imagine her viewpoint. It’s a nightmare-inducing book about what happens when he forces himself into a position of power and control over her.
What’s your favourite novel?
It’s Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa, which was written in the middle of the 18th century. The plot revolves around the heroine’s pursuit by a man who is fixated upon her and won’t let her go, however much she struggles to free herself from him; her escape routes are so severely restricted. And I think that probably describes the plot of The Book of You, too. The laws and customs do not protect Richardson’s heroine from sexual violence, and they provide her with no effective recourse after it occurs. She is further incapacitated by a guilt – and mortification – that springs from her initial ambivalence towards her tormenter; she lives in a world in which victims are readily blamed for what happens to them. I wondered: could that still happen today? And if so, how would a 21st-century writer tell the 18th-century Clarissa’s story?
The Book of You seems like a very dark fairy tale…
I meant it to be. Fairy tales are so formative to all of us. I wanted The Book of You to explore the underside of romantic notions of love, in which the gestures of chivalry and unwavering devotion can blur into dangerous obsession. One of my characters is a kind of modern day Bluebeard, driven by the most extreme sexual sadism and cruelty. This is topical given the recent spate of bestselling books which romanticise such relationships. But The Book of You portrays sexual sadism, and its consequences, in a rather different and I think more realistic light.
What makes The Book of You relevant now?
The novel explores a number of things that readers will be concerned by, the kinds of things that are picked up in the press all the time. One of these is the treatment of victims within the criminal justice system. But the story also touches on fertility, body image, female beauty, drug abuse and self-medication. Probably above all else, though, the theme of stalking is of huge interest and importance, and will divide opinions. Since writing the book, I’ve been shocked by how many people – both male and female – have told me that this has happened to them, and how helpless they felt. The statistics vary. One study says 1 in 12 women. Another says 1 in 6. Still another says 1 in 4. For men the figures range from 5% to 7%.
How do you see the book?
Above all, I’ve tried to write an atmospheric psychological thriller that will grip people and make them want to keep turning the pages. At the same time, though, I think of it as a literary book in quite a literal sense, because I’ve spent so much of my life reading and thinking about novels, and I know I’ve been formed by that – I think most books are conversations with other books.
Tell us about your novel’s main character.
Clarissa isn’t perfect and she makes mistakes, but she’s incredibly brave. On a very simple level, she longs for the things that many of us long for: to be in love, to have a child. She struggles to gain what many of us take for granted: to be safe, to be free. I hope the reader will feel that if there’s darkness in the novel, there’s beauty in it too, and that it’s about things that matter.
If you could make three wishes for The Book of You, what would they be?
That’s always a tricky question. But I hope that people will love the novel, that it will change their perceptions, and that it will help them to feel sympathy for someone in a difficult position.
The Book of You
10 Apr 2014