Pretty Is

Written by Maggie Mitchell

Review written by Maureen Carlyle

Pretty Is
RRP: £12.99
Released: July 16, 2015
Trade Pbk

At the age of twelve, Lois and Carly-May were abducted and were missing for two months.  Now mature women, they have rebuilt their lives, but remain mentally scarred by their experience.  By choice, they have not kept in touch, but through a series of new developments they are to meet again.

The narrative switches between the present and the past, so that the true, full story of their missing two months is gradually revealed.  When they were twelve, both girls were leading lives that were unsatisfactory in different ways.  Lois's parents, from once-wealthy families, were struggling to make a success of turning their inherited mansion into a successful hotel.  They had little time to spare for their good-looking and clever daughter, who has won international competitions by her faultless spelling of obscure words.  Carly-May, daughter of a farmer in Arrow in Nebraska, is exceptionally pretty, with long, curling blonde hair.  Her life is organised by her stepmother, Gail, who immediately recognised her potential on her hasty marriage to Carly-May's father, a recent widower.  Carly-May's life is now spent travelling the United States entering child beauty competitions.

This partly explains why they individually accept a lift from a complete stranger, who rapidly establishes complete power over both girls.  Their abductor is good-looking and intelligent.  Every detail of their capture and subsequent imprisonment in a cabin in the middle of a forest in the Adirondacks has been carefully thought out.  He makes no attempt to harm them physically, but controls their every action.  In these circumstances the two girls form an uneasy alliance, never satisfactory due their widely differing backgrounds.  This strange life lasts until they are eventually rescued by the police.

In the present, Lois has become a professor of English Literature at a prestigious university in the North East.  She has recently published her successful first novel, loosely based on her experiences as a twelve-year-old, entitled Deep in the Woods.  Carly-May eventually escaped the influence of Gail and became a small-time movie actress, appearing in horror and mildly pornographic films.

Lois is spending a lot of time with a troubled student, Sean, who she really knows is a lost cause.  After a time he develops the characteristics of a stalker and her friends at the university advise her to break contact with him.  Then she is told that Deep in the Woods is to be made into a film, and Carly-May, professional name Chloe Savage, is to star in it

As the inevitable reunion of the two women approaches, events become ever more sinister and chaotic before a masterly ending that is a kind of resolution.

This is definitely more of a psychological study than a whodunnit, but it is an impressive debut novel.  Absorbing, complex and unusual.

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