The Blurb On The Back:
”In this job, festering skeletons have a nasty habit of tumbling out, sooner or later. So think carefully – is there anything you need to tell me?”
Four best friends with perfect lives.
A once in a lifetime opportunity.
Who can resist the call of fame and fortune?
When Liv, Hetty, Jez and Duffy audition for a new reality TV show, they’re confident they can handle the pressure of being in the public eye. After all, they don’t have anything to hide. Do they? But that’s before Cass produces the photo of the body …
The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
It’s 10am on 1 July.
18-year-old Olivia ‘Liv’ Dawson-Hill lives a gilded, privileged life. Her dad runs an agricultural business and her mum is a race-horse breeder. She lives in her own house next to theirs on what is essentially an estate and runs a successful beauty vlog called Miss Olivia Loves, which has over a million followers and got nominated for a national award the year before.
Having just finished her A Levels and knowing she’s done badly, university isn’t an option for Liv and a recent bad breakup means she’s keen to move on and prove herself to be a success. So when she sees an advert inviting audition pieces for a group of 4 friends to be on a new show called THIS CARELESS LIFE, to be shot over the 6 week school holiday period, she sees it as her shot at fame and fortune or, if not, then at least promoting her vlog and getting more followers.
She persuades best friend Hetty Barraclough (who lost her dad in a road accident a year earlier and whose mother, Rose Barraclough, is an MP for the anti-immigration Britannia Party), Declan ‘Duff’ Duffy (a notorious lad best known for his sporting achievements at the school they all attend) and Jeremiah ‘Jez’ Livingstone (the son of a lawyer and a judge who runs his own charity and has a place to study law at Cambridge that autumn) to audition with her. The gilded lives that all four lead result in their being shortlisted and Live is told that the production company that there will be a further interview with all four of them to see if they’re good TV material.
So when Cassandra ‘Cass’ Verity turns up to do the final interview with them, they are all excited and nervous, especially as Cass tells them that she needs to ask harsh questions to make sure they’re completely prepared. But as Cass starts to ask her questions, it becomes clear that each of the four has a secret that they’re anxious no one discover – a secret that no one else could possibly know – and as Cass continues with her questions, they each become more and more uncomfortable. And then Cass produces a photo of what seems to be a dead body …
Rachel McIntyre’s standalone YA novel is a heavy-handed morality tale inspired by AN INSPECTOR CALLS with a supernatural twist. Unfortunately the characters are poorly drawn and little more than selfish, rich kid stereotypes, the revelation is pretty easy to guess and the resolution is pretty unsatisfying. Ultimately the book’s just a bit too stiff and leaden for me and as a result I didn’t really enjoy it.
The big issue with the book is that Olivia, Hetty, Jez and Duff are all such baldly drawn rich kid stereotypes that it’s difficult to care about them or their respective secrets. Each is vain, fame-obsessed, selfish and uncaring of others and although the whole arc of the book is for Cass to make them realise the consequences of this, at no point does it seem credible that they would change their behaviour based on what happens. This is reinforced by the way McIntyre ends the book – there’s no follow up on what’s going to happen to them all now they know what they’ve done so it makes it very difficult to buy into any long-term shift in their attitude. In addition, the common link between all four characters is passively written, there to be the victim of each of them and little else, which makes for a dull read, especially as there’s nothing to indicate where her story is going afterwards or whether her situation is actually gong to improve. Finally Cass is little more than a narrative device, there to reveal the backstory that links the friends with each other and provide some moral disapproval but it’s not really clear what the purpose of Cass’s actions are or why she does them because McIntyre decides to leave it open ended, which I found a little frustrating.
If you’re familiar with the plot of AN INSPECTOR CALLS then it’s clear where the story is going and that obvious allusion takes away a lot of the potential tension. The supernatural element is cursory and not really explored, again existing as a plot device for the revelations rather than any world building. Pacing is stilted because the plot is developed through flashbacks and the interview device to get to them feels quite artificial.
The thing I find a shame with the book is that there was scope to explore some interesting ideas – Hetty’s far right, anti-immigration MP mother and the fact that Liv’s father seems to use modern slave labour being the big two examples – but they get skirted instead, even though they do go to the heart of two of the secrets in the book and would seem to have an important bearing on any change that the characters want to make to their lives.
Ultimately this book just didn’t work for me and I can’t say that I really enjoyed it.