Review by Helen’s Reads
Sonia Velton’s second novel, The Image of Her, may be a complete contrast to her first, but it is just as brilliant. Her debut, Blackberry and Wild Rose, was a historical novel about the Huguenot silk weavers set in 18th century London, whereas her latest title is set in the present day.
What unites these two books, with their diverse historical and geographical settings, is a masterful strength of characterisation, a compelling story and a really strong narrative thread which hooks in the reader and keeps them turning the pages to the end to discover the outcome.
Stella and Connie are complete strangers. living unrelated, parallel lives, in two different countries.
Stella is a teaching assistant with a suffocating, controlling, loveless mother who belittles and undermines her confidence at every opportunity. Stella’s life has been completely shaped and moulded by this narcissistic woman, and she has lived her life to please her mother and keep her happy, submitting to her whims and her strictures on everything from her career to her love-life, running back to her mother every time she yanks the emotional leash.
When her mother develops dementia, Stella is forced to give up her job to become her full time carer – the pressures in Stella’s life increase significantly, and her already narrow world shrinks and contracts even further – until their situation culminates in a traumatic event.
Recovering from a life-changing, almost fatal accident, Stella feels the need to connect with someone, and in her head she unburdens herself to Connie, a woman she has never met, and never will. Connie lives the ex-pat life in Dubai with her husband Mark and their two children. On the face of it, she has everything: a handsome, successful, loving husband; two gorgeous children; the incredible Dubai lifestyle. But not everything is as it seems on the surface, nor in the carefully curated photos and comments on Facebook, and as the novel progresses the destinies of these two women – strangers, living thousands of miles apart – intersect in the most unexpected and unimaginable way.
This is a completely intriguing and utterly compelling read, and it works so well because of the superb characterisation and the dramatic tension which is expertly handled by the author. The characters of Stella and Connie are superbly drawn, with real compassion and subtlety. Their dual-thread narrative adds intensity to the novel, with Stella’s first person, and Connie’s third person viewpoints alternating.
Stella and Connie may be complete strangers and miles apart, but what is so clever about the construction of the novel is how their respective circumstances parallel each other as their stories unfold. Both women have had to give up careers that fulfilled them; both become increasingly isolated; neither gets the support she needs.
As well as being a compulsive and emotional read, this is also a very thought-provoking novel, and Sonia Velton is not afraid to pick up some really big issues and weave them into her story, including domestic slavery and exploitation in Dubai; abuse; toxic parents; and the lack of support for carers. Perhaps the biggest theme of the novel is that of identity and self, and, on several levels: psychological, physical, mental, and emotional. There is so much for the reader to think about, and it is the sort of book that will live on in your mind long after you have finished it.
This clever, thought-provoking, emotive and intriguing novel is “must-read” – if you haven’t yet discovered Sonia Velton you are in for a treat, and if you are already a fan after reading her first novel, I guarantee that you will not be disappointed by The Image of Her.
The Image of Her by Sonia Velton to be published by Quercus July 2021, hardback
To buy this book, please visit our U.K books site https://uk.bookshop.org/