Book Review: The Confession

Jesse Burton

Picador

Review: Brian Joss

Rose Simmons is lost: she’s in her 30s and still trying to find her way. Even though she has a degree in English and ”can do anything, Rosie. You’re just so bloody clever. Just believe you can do it, please”, her dad tells her.

She works in a coffee shop, Clean Bean, and her best friend Kelly, is an influencer of note, parlaying her pregnancies and advice on matters maternal into a profitable enterprise through Instagram and other social media. But she too has baggage.

Rose has been in a dead-end relationship with Joe for nine years during which she has given her support to his dream of owning a food truck, which they have already bought and from where he plans to sell his Joerritos – but that’s as far as it goes  – it’s just talk.

Rose has a dream of her own, trying to find her mother who left her and her father when she was one. She confesses she killed her mother. She didn’t, she just made up exotic stories to explain her mother’s absence to her school friends. Her father meanwhile has moved to Brittany with Claire and towards the end of one summer Rose and Joe visit him there.

All that Rose knows about her mother is her name, Elise Morceau, and that she, Rose, was born in New York where her parents lived at the time.

On that break in Brittany her father gives Rose two innocuous paperbacks, called Wax Heart and Green Rabbit, both written by Constance ”Connie” Holden. Rose’s father tells her, your mum knew her. ”In fact they were together before I knew her”.

Despite her father’s warning that Connie, who was the last person to see Elise, may not want to speak to her Rose starts the search for the mother she never had.  That’s the second thread in this compelling story that starts in 2017.

The first thread opens in 1980 and is about Elise and much of her life is a mirror image of Rose’s.  Elise was left without a mother at the age of nine. She also wants a life of her own instead of posing nude for artists at the Royal Academy of Art and doing some waitressing.

One winter’s afternoon in Hampstead Heath, Connie, already a novelist of importance, sees Elise, attracted by her beauty, and so begins an ardent relationship, sometimes one-sided. Connie doesn’t allow anyone to penetrate her inner being. She is an intensively private person and even her home is like a fortress, as Rose later discovers.

Six months after that fateful meeting Connie invites Elise to move in with her. Later she persuades her to go to Hollywood where Connie’s book, Wax Heart, is going to be made in to a movie, starring the celebrities of the day. That’s when the cracks in their relationship begin to show.

Back in London Rose serendipitously gets a job as Connie’s personal assistant. Connie by now is showing signs of ill health: she’s crippled by arthritis, which has affected her hands, so it’s not easy for her to type or even hold a cup.

Rose uses the pseudonym Laura Brown and Connie hires her to help her type her new novel, The Mercurial, the first in decades, and cook and clean, all the while desperately hoping that her duplicity won’t be exposed.

However, Connie’s literary agent finds out that Laura Brown is not Laura Brown.  And there is an explosion. 
Finally, the truth comes out, and when Rose asks Connie: “Did you really not look at me and wonder? Did you really not look at me and see Elise?” Honest answer. “No, I didn’t. I looked, Rose. But I saw you.”

Rose, Elise and Connie come to life in these pages. You feel their hurt and their triumphs, and feel lost when they do. The male characters, not so much. Especially Matt, Elise’s lover,  a stereotype of a typical man, shallow and self-centred. His wife, Shara, an artist, had a miscarriage which hovers over their marriage like a ghost. The Confession is an absorbing look at the complexity of relationships, about secrets and how we eventually find ourselves.

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