The Primrose Path by Rebecca Griffiths #WritingWales
The Primrose Path is an atmospheric thriller based on the premise that no matter how fast or far you run, you can never escape the past.
At the age of 19, Sarah D’Villez was abducted during a visit to some riding stables and held prisoner for days. She managed to escape though her attacker’s wife was murdered in the course of her flight. For years, Sarah re-lived the anguish of her ordeal and the media attention it generated. The trauma alienated her from her friends and mother and ultimately caused the breakdown of her marriage and separation from her child. Now in her 30s she learns that John Blundell, her abductor, is about to be released from prison. She has to escape before he, or the press, catch up with her. So she dyes her hair, changes her name to Rachel and moves to a converted barn in rural Wales to start a new life, telling no-one not even her mother about her whereabouts.
Even in such an isolated location she doesn’t feel completely safe. It’s not only the fear that someone might discover her secret. One of her nearest neighbours is Idris, a creepy, filthy truck driver who keeps turning up on her doorstep un-announced. Rachel is sure Idris is spying on her and is stealing her underwear. She’s afraid of what this brutish man could do to a woman living alone.
Rebecca Griffiths packs a lot into this book with several plot lines that appear unconnected but which gradually converge as the story progresses. We get Rachel’s flight to Wales and the tension created by her mother’s decision to hire a private investigator to track down her daughter. Added to that there is a mystery about the barn in which Rachel now lives. It once belonged to Idris’ family but no-one knows what happened to his young sister who just disappeared one day on a trip to the seaside. And for good measure, there is a serial killer on the loose who is preying on young women.
The story is told from the point of view of several characters, Rachel of course is one of the key narrators but we also hear from her mother Jennifer and from Dai, a widower who has reason to loathe Idris. In between we get some chilling first-person chapters narrated by the unnamed, unidentified serial killer who watches for their next victim.
Rebecca Griffiths certainly has a talent for creating some obnoxious characters. Rachel’s mother is a really masterful portrait of an acerbic, cold woman whose armour is pierced when she makes a shocking discovery in her husband’s study. And then there is Idris, a socially isolated, dysfunctional man who doesn’t know the meaning of the term personal hygiene. So repugnant is he that everyone in the community finds it easy to believe he is capable of anything.
Overall, The Primrose Path is a cleverly-plotted novel. I’ve seen several comments from reviewers that it’s overly slow to get going but that wasn’t my reaction. We needed time to get to know the multiple characters and their relationships to each other. Once Rachel is firmly established in Wales the pace picks up as we learn more about her former life. There are plenty of surprising twists and moments which challenge your assumptions. The clues to the denouement were there all along but I didn’t spot them so the ending was a surprise. I won’t spoil this for other readers other than to say that its worth keeping in mind as you read The Primrose Path that this is a novel in which virtually everyone has a secret…
I did have a couple of issues with the book. One is that it felt repetitive at times – we kept getting told for example that Idris’ home is a tip while Rachel’s new home is remote. I know Griffiths wanted to emphasise her vulnerability but I didn’t feel I needed to be hit over the head with that fact quite so much. The biggest issue however was the resolution of the serial killer sub-plot. Griffiths leads her readers down several garden paths about the identity of the killer and, to my delight, completely wrong-footed me ( I hate thrillers where the culprit is too evident.). However her solution felt too much of a cop-out because the culprit was barely present as a character in the novel so we never really understood their motivation for killing women they considered ‘slags’.
Overall however The Primrose Path is a well-structured tale that shows some deft handling of multiple plot lines and levels of tension. It’s clear why this debut novel by Rebecca Griffiths has earned her many accolades in the UK with predictions that she is on the track to a highly successful career. She’s someone I’ll certainly be keeping an eye open for in the future.
About the Book: The Primrose Path by Rebecca Griffiths was published by Sphere in 2016. The title is a phrase taken from Hamlet and has come to mean a course of action that seems easy and appropriate but can actually end in calamity.
About the author : Rebecca Griffiths grew up in rural mid-Wales. She returned to live there after a successful business career in London, Dublin and Scotland. The Primrose Path is her debut novel.
Why I bought this book: I came across this while mooching around the bookshop last year and was drawn to the fact this was by an author from my homeland.
13 thoughts on “The Primrose Path by Rebecca Griffiths #WritingWales”
I didn’t realize you were from Wales! How nice to find such a book, then. Why was the main character’s mother so unreliable? At least, she sounds unreliable!
It’s not so much that she is unreliable, it’s just that she finds something when clearing out her dead husband’s study that disturbs her. the author keeps the nature of this hidden until the very end….
Ah, I see!
I do love this kind of story, and I would enjoy the slow build-up with characters in the beginning…I like knowing who they are and what they’re doing. There are many characters to hate, and I like that we get to see that, even as we’re trying to guess who is the creepiest of them all.
I also enjoy when one of the narrators in the story is the unknown one, the serial killer. However, I, too, want to know a little more about what motivates the serial killer. He needs to be fleshed out and hiding in plain sight, while we overlook him as a potential suspect…until we can’t.
Anyway….definitely one to add to my list. Thanks!
It’s difficult to give more precise reasons why the sub plot resolution didnt feel right, without giving too many clues about who the culprit turned out to be.
Reblogged this on Don Massenzio's Blog and commented:
Check out the book, The Primrose Path, by Rebecca Griffiths, as featured on the Booker Talk blog
I find the use of the word ‘slag’ troubling (not your use of it obviously). Was the mysogyny of that term explored? I sometimes feel that novels, and crime novels in particular, can revel in men’s behaviour as an excuse or context for sexual assault/ murder, but never really explore it on a bigger level. As an aside, the way you’ve summarised the wrap up feels a little bit like the Australian award winner “Black Rock White City’ where (plot spoiler) a minor character is culpable for heinous crimes against women *out of nowhere*.
Im going to find it hard to answer your question without revealing who the culprit turned out to be which could spoil it for other readers. allI can really say is that this is a novel where assumptions are proved to be wrong…..
That’s good enough for me!
It sounds as if you’ve found another great story set in Wales although I have to say authors who don’t trust their readers to get a point without endlessly repeating is a pet peeve of mine. Some stories benefit greatly from a slower build-up at the beginning and I am fond of those disparate storylines that gradually converge. Great review as always!
Fortunately it wasn’t too big an issue – just a blip on what was otherwise a really good book.
Great review. I like stories told from the POV of different characters. And this seems like a book that has done it well enough
Not all authors can pull off the multiple narrator technique – for me that shows the author is someone who knows what they are doing