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by Matthew D'Ancona
Hodder & Stoughton, April 2009
277 pages
6.99 GBP
ISBN: 0340828498

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Ginny is a recently divorced academic writer who buys a new house with the money which her divorce settlement has provided her, and the help of her journalist friend Peter. Settling in with just her cat, Winston, for company, and the occasional support of best friend Julie, she finds that one of her neighbours is an enigmatic young man called Sean. While working on her book, which is concerned with the nature of fairy tales, she gradually falls into a relationship with him, while at the same time dealing with her now abusive ex-husband and the gardening-addicted bigot who is her other neighbour. She can get no closer to unravelling the many mysteries which surround Sean, but all is apparently revealed when she goes into the room which he has asked her never to enter. The shocking facts she discover make her flee in horror. But the story is only just beginning and Ginny has to go through many trials and revelations before she discovers both truth and resolution of a kind.

The first and most important thing to say about NOTHING TO FEAR is that D'Ancona can really write. The prose is vivid, engaging, never dull. The book shifts its mood from the light to the dark, the witty to the serious with considerable aplomb. And added to this he can really plot too. There are at least two major plot revelations late in the book both of which are highly satisfying. At no point was I really clear about what was going on. There is only one real crime committed during the course of the book (admittedly one which I personally found very nasty but objectively would probably not even result in imprisonment) but the atmosphere of threat is almost palpable. This is particularly odd given that most of the first half of the book is concerned with fairly light sociological and psychological examination of Ginny and her life. D'Ancona handles this material splendidly and the aforementioned quality of his prose makes it a delight to read.

Any problems which the book does have emerge after Ginny has discovered the 'secret'. It is hard, if not impossible, to discuss this without giving too much away so I will merely say that I found D'Ancona's writing here to lack the sureness of touch which is to be found in the first half of the book. Naturally, for a book of this kind, we have a woman (or women) in jeopardy sequence, and while it is quite adequately handled it, as so often, seems to lack psychological realism in that is hard to believe that Ginny would have acted in the way that she did. Indeed it is the psychological aspect of the book which is in general the weakest. However after this, D'Ancona pulls things together absolutely splendidly in the resolution sequences with their plot twists. He then throws in a delightful coda showing how Ginny has got on with her life, and even adds yet another unexpected development.

Considering the book as a whole, and making allowance for the flaws, NOTHING TO FEAR is still laden with quality. With its excellent prose, sharp and rarely cliched sociological observation, a very well-imagined and developed plot, this is a book which succeeds in not merely gripping but also involving the reader. D'Ancona is a name I shall be watching out for.

Reviewed by Nick Hay, August 2009

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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