By Elizabeth Forbes
Published by Cutting Edge Press
Reviewed by Jessica Patient
Everything is not what it seems to be in Elizabeth Forbes’s gripping novel. The Nearest Thing to Crazy is a fantastic, tense story about identity, insecurities, manipulation and searching for the truth.
On the surface Cassandra has an idyllic life in the country – her passion for gardening has turned into a business, her daughter is at university, her husband has a successful career and she lives in a tight knit community with a close set of friends. A new neighbour, Ellie, moves into the village, bringing glamour and mystery to the village. Cassandra’s life unravels as she becomes increasingly suspicious of her new neighbour’s motives.
“I just needed to be able to turn my feelings over, spread them out in the palms of my hands and hold them up to the light.”
Forbes builds this at the beginning to seem like a simple case of jealousy but Cassandra’s doubts about Ellie start to consume her life. She is convinced her neighbour is trying to ruin her life. Forbes brilliantly explores Cassandra’s slow detachment from her glossy life. This reminded me of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar in the way that both novels explorer characters who appears on the surface to be perfect but are actually the opposite. Lurking just beneath the veneer of a perfect life is a woman who increasingly becomes isolated from society and mental health issues from her past start to bubble to the surface and paranoia claws at Cassandra’s life. Darkness lingers at the heart of this book. Forbes’s builds the suspense with unexpected twists in the plot.
“The pills were the highlight of the day because they provided some degree of numbness, dulling the edge of the pain in the same way that a hard rock can scrape the edge off a sharp blade.”
There were times when I wondered if Cassandra is a reliable narrator and there were also times when I wanted to grab Cassandra and shake her shoulders. Her loyalty to her husband is exploited many times. Ellie convinces him that his own wife is ill and he believes this statement. As the story builds to its conclusion Cassandra needs to work out who in her life she can trust with the truth.
Forbes is full in control of the story and even has time to mock the over dramatisation in novels. We see this when Cassandra finds and reads extracts of Ellie’s novel and dismisses the over reaction of the characters. This novel is an account of Ellie’s life in the country with characters very similar to real people in the village. There is even a main character who is having an affair with a character who is similar to Cassandra’s husband.
The Nearest Thing to Crazy took hold of me from the start and didn’t let go until the end. In fact I am still thinking about this book and its themes a week after finishing. This is a great book and it deserves all the praise it could possibly be given.