The Body Lies by Jo Baker
Published by Doubleday
Publication date: June 13, 2019
Genres: Book Clubs, Fiction, Literary, Social Issues, Suspense
A young, pregnant woman walking home is beaten on a busy street. Only by biting the man’s hand does she escape before he rapes her. This random act of violence is pivotal in her life and, despite a happy marriage and a healthy baby, three years later she still finds herself haunted by the event. A writer, she finds she can’t write, so she takes a job teaching writing at a small college north of London. This unnamed woman is the narrator in Jo Baker’s, The Body Lies, a novel that combines suspense with timely women’s issues.
Her husband is unable to leave his job so she moves with their son and he comes and visits on weekends. She finds the community and semi-isolation peaceful, but the job isn’t what she was told it would be. Her eight students have widely varying writing abilities, but one in particular, Nicholas, likes pushing the boundaries of both his fellow students and of fiction versus reality. New to teaching, she tries to maintain control without stifling creativity, but soon Nicholas’ chapters take a frightening turn. Alone, with no professional experience or guidance, she finds herself in an increasingly untenable position.
The Body Lies is not a male-bashing novel, but the men in the story come off badly. Not as supervillains, but in ways many women will find all-too-familiar. There is the smarmy dean who takes her acquiescence to mean he can keep a hand on her arm too long, stand too close, and pile work on her that is far beyond her level of expertise, all without any more money. Her husband, who loses patience and turns elsewhere, leaving her alone and with a toddler to care for without help. And even an interested colleague who reads like a good guy until he jumps to conclusions and blames her for her situation without all the facts.
Baker writes The Body Lies as the proverbial slippery slope. Things start going downhill slightly until the pitch is too steep and there’s no way to stop the fall. It’s all put in motion by the attack from a stranger. From there, the narrator’s perception of the world changes and if in one way it makes her more aware, in another it makes her more compliant. When things do go really bad, her fear keeps her silent and the fall to the bottom accelerates. Baker layers this with the pressures the writer faces—a demanding job, active toddler, absentee husband, and no support network at all—to create a rising tension that feels almost paralyzing. There’s a lot to absorb in The Body Lies and it does build to a crescendo that pushes the boundaries, but overall this is great reading for anyone who likes their thrillers with a literary twist.