The Party Wall, Stevie Davies’s 14th novel, delves into the issue of coercive control with a story of neighbour whose solicitude for a grieving widow turns into an obsession.
At the heart of the tale are Freya Fox and Mark Heyward who live either side of a party wall. Mark, a museum curator, has always been considered something of a loner and an oddball in The Crescent but the death of Freya’s husband sees him emerge as the local Mr Nice Guy. He becomes a shoulder to lean upon, a friend whom Freya feels truly understands her grief because he too has known loss in his life (or so he tells her).
Her relatives and friends have their reservations but Freya is slow to realise that Mark isn’t all he seems. His wife Lily died in odd circumstances but there’s a mystery too about the woman who took her place — why is he the one living in Mark’s old home while he occupies a small flat?.
As The Party Wall unfolds, his attempts to get closer to Freya take on a more sinister component. He steals her possessions as trophies and even installs hidden cameras in her home so he can watch her undetected. It’s clear to the reader that Mark is a predator, a man who uses his intelligence and good looks to manoeuvre himself into a woman’s life and exert control so stealthily that she doesn’t realise what’s happening until it’s too late. It’s a frightening — and all too real — scenario.
From a psychological point of view, this is an absorbing story, showing how the seeds of a toxic relationship may lie in the abuser’s own experience in the past.
The dual point of view works well — letting us into the minds of both the abused and the abuser. Unfortunately The Party Wall isn’t a particularly enjoyable reading experience. It was very slow to get underway and was quite repetitive at times. I was able to skim a few pages without feeling I had lost any of the impact of the narrative.
The Party Wall by Stevie Davies: Footnotes
Stevie Davies is a novelist, literary critic, biographer and historian born in Swansea, South Wales. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, a Fellow of the Academi Gymreig and is Director of Creative Writing at the University of Wales in Swansea.
Stevie has published four books on Emily Brontë and edited Charlotte’s Jane Eyre and Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall for Penguin Classics. She has close links with the Brontë Society in Haworth, Yorkshire, where she has been a frequent speaker.
Her fiction has featured on the lists of contenders for several prizes. The Element of Water won the 2002 Arts Council of Wales Book of the Year Prize and was longlisted for both the 2001 Booker Prize and the 2002 Orange Prize. Her later novel Kith and Kin was longlisted for the 2004 Orange Prize.
The Party Wall — her 14th novel — was published in 2020 by the Welsh Independent press, Honno.
Thanks to NetGalley and Honno for a free copy of this book in return for an honest review. Reading this has given me a chance to discover another Welsh author.