Book review: The Confession by Jessie Burton

Wednesday, September 18, 2019 Permalink

I’ve not read any of Jessie Burton’s books before, but the fact her second novel was called, The Muse, doesn’t surprise me as her latest, The Confession is very much centred around creativity, control and passion.

One of the main characters in the book, although not one of our narrators, is an author, known for her beautiful poetic and poignant prose… laden with depth and meaning, and Burton effortlessly manages to reflect this.

Book review: The Confession by Jessie BurtonThe Confession
by Jessie Burton
Published by Picador
on September 24th 2019
Genres: General Fiction, Literary Fiction
ISBN: 150988615X, 9781509886159
Pages: 464

One winter's afternoon on Hampstead Heath in 1980, Elise Morceau meets Constance Holden and quickly falls under her spell. Connie is bold and alluring, a successful writer whose novel is being turned into a major Hollywood film.

Elise follows Connie to LA, a city of strange dreams and swimming pools and late-night gatherings of glamorous people. But whilst Connie thrives on the heat and electricity of this new world where everyone is reaching for the stars and no one is telling the truth, Elise finds herself floundering. When she overhears a conversation at a party that turns everything on its head, Elise makes an impulsive decision that will change her life forever.

Three decades later, Rose Simmons is seeking answers about her mother, who disappeared when she was a baby. Having learned that the last person to see her was Constance Holden, a reclusive novelist who withdrew from public life at the peak of her fame, Rose is drawn to the door of Connie's imposing house in search of a confession ...

The book unfolds from the point of view of Elise, who we meet in 1980 – supposedly meeting a man her flatmate’s set her up with on a blind date – but instead runs into Connie.

Elise is enchanted. We’re in her head so we know how she feels. Connie seems smitten, but the balance of power in their relationship falls very definitely towards the older woman, which isn’t something Elise really considers until later.

Of course it’s (much) later still we learn both the limit and extent of Connie’s feelings for Elise.

The pair’s relationship becomes tumultuous once they move to America. Seemingly aloof Connie is suddenly bewitched by the vitality and excitement of Hollywood (rather than the glamor and riches).

Elise though is at a loss. She sees it as a soulless place and can’t understand how Connie can be so beguiled. Things explode and stuff said and done that can’t be unsaid and undone.

Our other narrator is Rosie (Rose) who seems to be rather ‘stuck’. She struggled growing up without a mother – unwilling to admit, even to herself – that her mother left her, instead making up fantastic stories about her whereabouts… before finally accepting that she may never know anything about the woman who gave birth to her, but left soon after.

It’s 2017 and Rose is unhappy in her long-term relationship and working multiple jobs when her father tells of her a famous novelist who was one of the last people to see her mother before she disappeared. Rose tracks down Connie and manages to ‘trick’ her way into Connie’s life. She knows she’s being dishonest and doesn’t mean any harm but is desperate to know more about her mother.

(Interestingly, this is the second book in a row I’ve read in which a character goes ‘undercover’ for not-necessarily-nefarious-reasons!)

Rose is an interesting character. Eminently likeable though frustrating. She’s approaching her mid-thirties and her life looks nothing like she expected, or wanted it to be. Even now she knows she needs to make some changes but feels hamstrung by her past, obsessed with the mother who left a gaping hole in her life.

And now I didn’t know who I was any more, or what on earth I was supposed to do with myself. I felt no kindness towards myself. I was ashamed at my stasis and ineptitude – because the truth is, everyone has their losses, their shames, their obsessive thoughts, and those people seem to manage it. Somehow they do it – they get on, they make a life for themselves. I hadn’t managed it. pp 71-72

Interestingly we get to know Connie well, despite not being inside her head. Now in her 70s there’s a sense she’s kinda ‘done’ with life and has been for some time. But she’s about to write her first book in over thirty years because, she says, she has something to say.

I wanted to write about what it means to love someone at the cost of yourself. Whether it’s a good thing. Whether it’s the point of everything. p 171

We get snippets from Connie’s novels and there are obvious parallels with her own story. Rose tries to analyse these for evidence of her mother’s presence in Connie’s life, and though some obviously exists, we’re reminded our feelings, thoughts and memories are always tainted by perception. It’s dangerous then (I think), to make assumptions based on how others see things.

This book is beautifully-written and I marked some phrasing that spoke to me…

My anger was sharpening, becoming more easily accessible to me. No one else could tell. I was good at keeping it to myself. p 57

I found I related more than I liked to Rose and her sense of ‘stasis’ and ‘sharpening anger’.

I should also mention I liked the direction Burton takes this story – some of the events could be predictable but they’re not at all; and she stops herself from offering up all of the answers. Something, Connie tells Rose is important, when the younger woman questions the conclusion of Connie’s new book with its non-explicit ending. She doesn’t want to spoon-feed her readers she says, or bash them over the head with it… they need to work it out for themselves.

The Confession by Jessie Burton will be published in Australia by Pan Macmillan and available from 24 September 2019.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes. 


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