"The secret games that people there have been playing for decades are about to be horribly, brutally exposed."
The novel opens violently. As the annual communal party starts to wind up, Pip goes looking for her sister – and she finds her, lying on the ground in a quiet corner of the garden, barely recognisable.
‘A girl, half-undressed. Shorts yanked down to her knees, floral camisole top lifted above small naked breasts. Her hair is spread about her. Her face is a bloodied mass. Grace.’
Then back in time we go. The girls and their mother have just arrived in Virginia Terrace. It takes a while for them to settle in, but in time Pip and Grace are welcomed by the children who play in the garden, and meet their families.
The sisters’ relationship becomes strained as Grace spends more and more of her time with the Howes girls and their parents, Adele and Leo. Gradually, Grace develops a crush on Leo, who seems happy to play the genial father-figure to his daughters’ friends.
But Pip is uncomfortable with the way Leo touches girls. She discovers that he may have been involved in the mysterious death of another girl 30 years earlier. She becomes increasingly suspicious of this paterfamilias – and then, on her 13th birthday, Grace is viciously attacked in the garden.
Police investigate and Leo becomes a prime suspect. Adele begins to question everything she thought she knew about her husband – and even about their three daughters.
The arrival of Clare and her girls has changed everything in Virginia Terrace. The secret games that people there have been playing for decades are about to be horribly, brutally exposed.
"She communicates an exceptionally strong sense of place, and in many ways the garden is the dark heart of this novel."
This fantastic book is really about chemistry – human chemistry, and what happens when something is dropped into a previously stable mix of ingredients; something that will turn the entire brew into something unpredictable, toxic, and explosive.
The catalyst in Lisa Jewell’s story are Clare, Grace and Pip. Clare’s husband is a schizophrenic who has just torched the family home. Striking out on their own, Clare and her two pre-pubescent daughters move into a flat. It is cramped by comparison with their previous surroundings, but there is a significantly redeeming feature – a large and very beautiful communal garden shared by the residents of Virginia Terrace, an elegant mix of flats and houses that surrounds the shared space.
Jewell succeeds in presenting this garden as a character in its own right – beautiful, yes, but also dark, primitive, and a keeper of its own secrets. She communicates an exceptionally strong sense of place, and in many ways the garden is the dark heart of this novel.
The story opens on the day of Virginia Terrace’s annual community garden party. There’s a BBQ; wine; music; everyone’s children running around playing games and roaming through the place. The garden boasts a small playground with swings and a roundabout; a so-called secret garden, gated and mysterious, and a larger, wilder patch of ground that everyone calls ‘The Jungle’. It’s child heaven.
But there’s a serpent in Paradise. It last bared its fangs 30 years before.
It is about to do so again.
Here are a selection of the reviews for The Girls
"Lisa Jewell takes her writing to a new and sophisticate level"
"Lisa Jewell has played another absolute blinder … This is an amotional and clever read, so good that I practically inhaled it in just a couple of sittings"
"Lisa Jewell’s best yet. Poignant, heart-wrenching and beautifully told"