Thirty-seven-year-old Alexandra Southwood – wife of Marc, mother of Lizzie and Charlotte, part-time lecturer in art – has disappeared. The usual things proceed to happen: the police investigate, her family and friends go mad with worry. Unusually, though, these events are recounted by Alex herself. But of course, Alex isn’t actually there to observe them... because she’s disappeared, and there’s some evidence that she has done so under violent circumstances (her bloodied clothes are soon found by a river). Writing that just then made me think of The Lovely Bones, where the story is narrated from beyond the grave by a murder victim. But that is not the scenario we have here - Alex is definitely very much alive, and we are given snippets of what she is currently experiencing - apparently held captive somewhere by an unnamed man - along with her account of the reactions of others to her disappearance. Alongside this narrative are letters gathered over the years from Alex’s old friend Amelia Heldt, a New York-based, relentlessly boundary-pushing conceptual artist who, it seems, can’t quite comprehend her friend’s apparent retreat into marriage, motherhood and academia. As Marc deals with the loss of his wife, there is increasing evidence that Alex was not, perhaps, all she seemed – or all he believed her to be. So far, so intriguing. The promotion for Exhibit Alexandra describes it as “unlike any other thriller you’ve read”, and that’s probably true – the central concept is certainly original. I did start to get a fairly vague inkling quite early on of what might be happening – and a slightly more developed one a bit later – but although I kind of got the basics I certainly couldn’t fill in the details until much later... and some things were a complete surprise. I did ponder whether Alex could be described as an unreliable narrator - certainly she does not tell the whole story, but on the whole I think she plays fair with the reader. The digressions into the often challenging work of certain artists are fascinating – I hadn’t heard of most of them and had to look them up to confirm whether they were in fact real people (they are – mostly). Exhibit Alexandra both tells a compelling story and poses some intriguing and endlessly debatable questions about art and life, identity and ethics. A fascinating read.
Many thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review!