The Drowning Woman by Robyn Harding took me by surprise. I read the blurb and made some assumptions. As I started reading and met Lee and Hazel I pictured it… the way it was going to play out. I could see it clearly and felt disappointed. Knowing that what was to come was going to be an anticlimax. Predictable. I’d read many versions of this book before.
So… you can imagine my surprise when the first major twist comes and the book goes in a completely different direction. And it happens not once, not even twice, but three times. Or maybe it was more. I lost count.The Drowning Woman
by Robyn Harding
Published by Grand Central Publishing
Source: Simon & Schuster
Genres: Thriller / Suspense, Psychological Thriller
Lee Gulliver never thought she’d find herself living on the streets – no one ever does – but when her restaurant fails, and she falls deeper into debt, she leaves her old life behind with nothing but her clothes and her car.
Parked in a secluded spot by the beach, she sees a sobbing woman throw herself into the ocean. Lee hauls the woman back to the surface but, instead of appreciation, she is met with fury. The drowning woman, Hazel, tells her that she wanted to die. She’s trapped in a toxic, abusive marriage, and is a prisoner in her own home. Lee has now thwarted her one chance to escape her life.
Out of options, Hazel retreats to her gilded cage. Lee thinks she’s seen the last of her, until Hazel unexpectedly returns the next morning. The women strike up an unlikely friendship and then, one day, Hazel makes a shocking request: she wants Lee to help her disappear. It’ll be easy, Hazel assures her. But Lee soon learns that nothing is as it seems – and that Hazel may not be the friend Lee thought she was …
Harding shares some of Lee’s backstory. Borrowing money off the wrong person to open her restaurant. Then COVID hits. She declares bankruptcy but her dodgy investor still wants his money. Lee has no option but to take off and now finds herself living in her car, talking her way into public swimming pool locker rooms to use their showers and relying on free dinners from the bar she’s working in.
Hazel’s tale is almost too bizarre to be true as she’s essentially married (contracted by ‘Total Power Exchange’) to a wealthy lawyer; treated like a slave and her movements monitored. Although I realised something was simmering beneath the surface, I liked their friendship. We’re privy to the relationship through Lee’s eyes and voice as narrator but it’s obvious neither judged the other. They didn’t even really offer pity, just a way out. For Hazel it’s escape. For Lee it’s a chance to get her life back on track and it’s looking more promising as she’s met someone she wants to be with.
And then things change. Spoiler alert, there’s a murder. We knew something was coming but what comes next is what surprised me, and though I’m reluctant to spoil it for others, I’ll offer this… we go back in time and our narrator changes. We’re offered a different point of view.
This is a really clever and twisty read from Harding. I really liked the characters she offers us here, with layers of depth and full of surprises. I think I’ve only read one other book by Harding, The Perfect Family, last year. In my review I mention the twists and the fact she plays with the timeline but I didn’t enjoy it as much as this. It certainly seems to be an indicator however that she’s a writer I need to read more of.
The Drowning Woman by Robyn Harding will be published by Simon & Schuster on 7 June 2023.
I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.