Fragile by Sarah Hilary

It’s far too long since I last read a Sarah Hilary book and I’m delighted to rectify that by sharing my review of Sarah’s first stand alone novel, Fragile on publication day. My enormous thanks to Hannah Corbett at Macmillan for sending me a copy of Fragile in return for an honest review and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to participate in the blog tour for Fragile.

Fragile is published today, 10th June 2021, by Pan Macmillan and is available for purchase through the links here.

Fragile

Everything she touches breaks . . .

Nell Ballard is a runaway. A former foster child with a dark secret she is desperate to keep, all Nell wants is to find a place she can belong.

So when a job comes up at Starling Villas, home to the enigmatic Robin Wilder, she seizes the opportunity with both hands.

But her new lodgings may not be the safe haven that she was hoping for. Her employer lives by a set of rigid rules and she soon sees that he is hiding secrets of his own.

But is Nell’s arrival at the Villas really the coincidence it seems? After all, she knows more than most how fragile people can be – and how easy they can be to break . . .

My Review of Fragile

Nell is looking for Joe.

When I first began reading Fragile it took me a moment to tune in to a different genre from Sarah Hilary, but within a very few pages I was utterly mesmerised, drawn into a narrative that is, at times, achingly beautifully written, so that reading it is almost as unbearable and affecting as the emotions Nell feels. I thought Fragile was superb because it’s multi-layered, creepy, intense and so compelling that I found myself thinking about it and trying to predict what might happen at times when I wasn’t actually reading it.

The prose in Fragile is intense, gorgeously written and such a swirling maelstrom of psychological insight that I felt almost physically affected by its impact. Sarah Hilary places her reader into the very bloodstream of her characters making them experience the same events and emotions as do Nell and Meagan, in particular, with razor sharp clarity. The intensity of the relationship between Nell and Joe could not be more perfectly conveyed. Very often, this effect is achieved through the senses of taste and smell in a thoroughly unusual and captivating manner.

Sarah Hilary’s plot seduces her reader completely because reality and self-deception are so closely aligned it is impossible to know quite whom to trust. Nell, for example, is simultaneously unreliable, and yet totally truthful, so that her first person narrative had my brain reeling. I found myself as lost and trapped in Fragile as any of the characters. In essence the plot is relatively simple – Nell becomes a housekeeper – but my goodness to say that is to belie a fascinating narrative of truly manipulative, controlling and scarily realistic people. Each character deserves the contempt and horror of any rational reader and yet each one is so fragile, so human and so believable that I found myself empathising and supporting them even in their most dubious or heinous actions.

It’s the themes of hatred and love, obsession and control, loyalty and deception that add such a spellbinding dimension. Sarah Hilary takes the dark human potential that resides in us all in Fragile and shows us not just what her characters can do, but holds up a mirror like the one in Robin’s room, to illustrate to us just how evil a potential we may have. I have no idea if the resonances were deliberate, but I also found myself reminded of Macbeth, of Tess of the D’Urbervilles, of The Lotus Eaters all of which added to my enjoyment too. This makes Fragile unsettling, compulsive and affecting.

I’m conscious that I haven’t really said much about the plot as I don’t want to spoil the story for others, but Fragile is a book that almost inveigles itself into the reader’s psyche. Sarah Hilary has a spellbinding ability to create an almost dreamlike atmosphere that leaves her reader feeling as drugged as Joe might be.

I thought Fragile was truly excellent. It enveloped me so that I was spellbound throughout. Just brilliant.

About Sarah Hilary

Sarah Hilary’s debut Someone Else’s Skin won the Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year, was a Richard & Judy Book Club pick and The Observer’s Book of the Month. In the US, it was a Silver Falchion and Macavity Award finalist. No Other Darkness, the second in the series, was shortlisted for a Barry Award. The sixth in her DI Marnie Rome series Never Be Broken is out now. Her short stories have won the Cheshire Prize for Literature, the Fish Criminally Short Histories Prize, and the SENSE prize. Fragile is her first standalone novel.

Sarah is one of the Killer Women, a crime writing collective supporting diversity, innovation and inclusion in their industry.

For more information, follow Sarah on Twitter @Sarah_Hilary, find her on Facebook and Instagram or visit her website.

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