The Quiet Tenant by Clémence Michallon
Published by Knopf Publishing Group
Publication date: June 20, 2023
Genres: Fiction, Suspense
Her name is Rachel. But it’s not. It’s simply the name the man has told her she must use when and if she were to come into contact with others. Which is unlikely given that she’s chained by the ankle to the wall in a padlocked shed. This is The Quiet Tenant by Clemence Michallon, a taut debut novel about a serial killer, told solely from the perspective of the women in his life—his teenage daughter, the women he’s killed, his girlfriend, and Rachel, who he’s held captive for five years.
He talks to you, sometimes. Not often, and always reluctantly, but he does. Some nights, it’s bragging. Other nights, it’s a confession. Perhaps this is why he has bothered keeping you alive at all: there are things in his life he needs to share, and you’re the only one who can hear them.
It’s Rachel’s whose words dominate The Quiet Tenant and in doing so give the novel its claustrophobic feel. Her life is four walls. No bed, no windows, just a bucket as a toilet. She is wholly dependent on the man for all her needs. A man who is, in the eyes of his small-town community, a loving father, and helpful neighbor. A man who is able to act like a god over Rachel. She has very little idea where she is, only a general sense of the passage of time, and is weakened by sporadic meals. And yet, deep in her mind, she is always watching and listening.
The chapters in The Quiet Tenant are as truncated as Rachel’s ability to move freely. The novel moves between her situation, the thoughts of Cecilia, the man’s daughter; and Emily, a local woman who’s had a crush on him for years and towards whom he is now starting to show interest. More chilling are the final observations of the eight women he’s already killed. Fear tends to take a back seat to confusion and disbelief that this is the end. That these perspectives shift after only a few pages increases the novel’s tension to the breaking point.
Michallon culls a wide range of emotions from these women and in doing so keeps the focus on them and not the killer. There is nothing to be gleaned or gained by spending time inside his mind. Instead, as the weeks pass it is Rachel who expands and unfolds, as she shifts between the cunning of a cornered animal to the choking weight of guilt over the additional victims, the apathy of long-term captivity and abuse to a belief that she somehow deserves this. Every page and layer of The Quiet Tenant is cleverly engineered for maximum psychological dissonance. In the midst of the everyday, at the very edge, out of the corner of your eye, there lurks a dreadful darkness.
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*I received a free copy of this book from Knopf in exchange for an honest review.*