The Whisper Network by Chandler Baker is a little outside of my usual reading genre. I must admit usually when I see book blurbs mentioning groups of women I assume it to be women’s fiction grappling with kids and husbands or in-laws or something saga like – to which I can’t relate. This book is more based around the workplace and – in reality – it felt like the plot took second place to its message. Which is fine, except (for me) the message was a little too forcefully delivered.
by Chandler Baker
Published by Hachette Australia
on June 25th 2019
Source: Hachette Australia
Genres: Women's Fiction, General Fiction
ISBN: 9780733641558, B07ND14Q92
Sloane, Ardie, Grace, and Rosalita are four women who have worked at Truviv, Inc., for years. The sudden death of Truviv's CEO means their boss, Ames, will likely take over the entire company. Ames is a complicated man, a man they’ve all known for a long time, a man who’s always been surrounded by...whispers. Whispers that have always been ignored by those in charge. But the world has changed, and the women are watching Ames’s latest promotion differently. This time, they’ve decided enough is enough.
Sloane and her colleagues set in motion a catastrophic shift within every floor and department of the Truviv offices. All four women’s lives—as women, colleagues, mothers, wives, friends, even adversaries—will change dramatically as a result.
"If only you had listened to us,” they tell us on page one, “none of this would have happened."
Baker does a good job of introducing us to the four women who feature in the blurb. All four work for a large company, three of whom are in senior positions and I loved that there was no rivalry between the three. Instead there was the whole ‘lifting other women up’ vibe. She doesn’t avoid it, cos that would be unrealistic but one of the characters (Ardie) in particular, talks about her friend Sloane being more suited to a senior position expecting more interpersonal skills than Ardie could be arsed to acquire or feign.
Even when it comes to the new bright young thing introduced to the company, the women shelve any jealousy for the ivy league stunner and instead remind themselves of their start in the industry a decade and a half earlier.
The women offer a fairly good representation of our gender in general (well, except for we childless types), albeit in the wealthier echelon. But then there’s Rosalita, a cleaner at the company who’s happily befriended (albeit casually) by Ardie in particular who mentors Rosalita’s son.
I also liked that the women ‘checked their privilege’ on occasion around Rosalita, and there’s a sense of paranoia about assumptions or judgements made.
Even the ‘bad guy’ here, Ames isn’t that bad. Well, in the superficial sense that ‘we’ get to know him here. He’s obviously lecherous and manipulative, but perhaps he’s just ambitious. Baker shades him in relatively pleasant grey for much of the novel rather than the far easier and more cliched black / white.
There is a sense of suspense. We know someone dies but for much of the novel Baker keeps it vague. The book opens with the death and then goes back in time to the events leading up to it, flashing forward to questioning (of the women and others at the firm).
So… there was a lot to like about this book. And I think, had it focused more on the plot itself, I would have enjoyed it more. However… there’s a strong agenda and Baker is not at all subtle about its delivery.
Almost all chapters open in first person plural… from the point of view of ‘we women’. The stuff we have to put up with in life. The shit in the workplace. The assumptions people make, the hurdles we must jump. A lot were warranted and very true. But some weren’t entirely relatable. Some I’d suggest men would also struggle with. Some I was offended by – the extra time it takes us in the morning to get ready because we have to blow-dry our hair and do our makeup. (I mean, I know I just read some crap about women in a Japanese business place being forced to wear heels to work, but I know shitloads of men who take longer to get dressed and ready than I do.)
I think I just felt annoyed that someone seemed to be speaking on ‘my’ behalf (as a woman) and it felt presumptuous.
So… I was ultimately sidetracked by some of the preachiness (the whole first, sometimes second person… “You should have listened to us,” lectures) which I think hijacked the story. In fairness to Baker, she does reflect on the fallout of accusations and rash judgements; and the book does recommend justice rather than revenge.
This could be another good book for bookclubs as there are a LOT of points for discussion – from some of the parenting issues the women are facing, to workplace issues to those faced by women in society in general.
The Whisper Network by Chandler Baker was published in Australia by Hachette on 25 June 2019.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.