Reviewed by Milo Milton-Jefferies
Living in a remote Devon farmhouse, Anna and her family have always been close to nature, surrounded by the haunting beauty of the moor. But when a convict escapes from nearby Dartmoor prison, their isolation suddenly begins to feel more claustrophobic than free. Fearing for her children's safety, Anna's behaviour becomes increasingly irrational. But why is she so distant from her kind husband Robert, and why does she suspect something sinister of her son Paul? All teenagers have their difficult phases...
Meanwhile, a young idealistic teacher has just started her first job, determined to 'make a difference'. But when she is brutally attacked by one of her students, her version of events is doubted by even those closest to her. Struggling to deal with the terrible consequences, she does what she can to move on and start afresh.
As the two narratives converge, the tension builds to a devastating denouement, shattering everything you thought you believed about nature, nurture and the true meaning of family.
There are several reasons why I love being a part of the blogging community, but I think one of the more important reasons is that there are literally loads of novels out there that I would never have heard of and discovered were it not for reviewing. When Stefan offered me the chance to guest review What Lies Within by Tom Vowler, I leapt at the chance, and this book turned out to be a very enjoyable reading experience, despite the fact I went into it knowing almost nothing about the book, except for the blurb and the cover.
The first thing that drew me to What Lies Within was that its location, Devon (for all you international readers, a county towards the south-west England), is where I live, and I don’t get the chance to read novels set in the same county as me very often, due to the fact that I’m a big reader of SFF books and very rarely do these take place in the English Countryside. So, I was willing to give Vowler the benefit of the doubt, and gave this book a try...
... And I was pleasantly surprised. This book deals with a touchy subject that not many people may feel comfortable with reading, and I couldn’t help but be compelled to support the teacher when reading this book, especially after all the things she’s subjected to. The theme of What Lies Within is essentially having to remain a good person even while you’re suffering bad events. What I liked about this book was that it really keeps you reading. It is hardly a comfortable read, mainly due to the subject matter, but What Lies Within is nonetheless an enthralling read.
And there’s a slow and gradual build up to this story. This book is very much a character-focused book as opposed to a plot-centric one. When I first read What Lies Within’s blurb, I mistakenly thought it would be a hunt for an escaped convict-type novel. But the book is far more than that, and an interesting read.
The story is told in the “present”, but the use of flashbacks is very interesting and develop over the course of the novel, as we learn more about certain events and discover that all things are not as initially clear-cut as we imagine them to be. Vowler has some strong, positive writing and really captures Anna’s personality. She’s a character with a harsh background and the author paints a sympathetic and empathetic picture of our protagonist.
I don’t want to give away the twist in the book, but it’s a pretty powerful one. What Lies Within is a book that’s full of surprises, and I am struggling to think of anything negative to say about it.