Book No 22 (2015) : You

you 1Joanna Briscoe’s novel ‘You‘ has an innocuous title but it is by no means a wishy-washy read. The book weaves together the stories of a mother, Dora, and her daughter, Cecilia. Both embark upon illicit affairs; Dora with Elisabeth, an art teacher at the school where they both teach and Cecilia with Elisabeth’s husband, James. Both relationships are passionate, obsessive. When Cecilia falls pregnant, Dora arranges for her baby to be adopted. Years later, Cecilia returns with her own daughters to the wild Devon house where Dora raised her family, to be near her mother as she recovers from cancer. As the women’s lives come together again, Cecilia and Dora liaisons reverberate intensely.

Usually I care a bit about what other people thought of a book, it matters to me whether others loved or hated it, in case too wild a deviation from the norm highlights some kind of eccentricity on my part. With ‘You‘, I really don’t care: I’ll nail my colours to the mast and declare this book to be amazing. I lived and breathed it for the time it took to read; I was certain I knew Cecilia, could visualise Wind Tor and hear James’ voice. Briscoe’s prose is artful, her conversation realistic in that it is not purely a device to progress the plot – it reflects the clumsy tools that words can be in our efforts to communicate with one another.

I went to an all-girls school right the way up to sixth form; as I recall, there was only ever one male teacher in all the time that I was there. It would therefore have been impossible for me to have an affair with a tutor of the opposite sex. There were more opportunities at Uni, but I was not in lectures often enough for anyone to remember my name, let alone seduce me. But reports of teacher/student relationships appear often in the press, almost always provoking outrage and debate. Parents are shocked the abuse of trust and power, others suggest that a girl over the age of 16 can make her own choices and ‘leave them alone, age doesn’t matter when you are in love’. If ‘You’ were to be your next choice as a book club read, I am sure it would provoke a lot of discussion, not only about the novel itself but around the key themes.

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