A review of Don’t Stand So Close, by Luana Lewis
When a mysterious teenage girl arrives at her front door one viciously cold, snowy night, agoraphobic Stella is too afraid to let her inside the house. But the girl refuses to leave and Stella is forced to let her come in. With the girl demanding to see her husband Max, a psychologist, who won’t be home until the next day, Stella is forced to engage in a battle of wills with the girl, who gradually reveals the real reason she has come to the house.
Don’t Stand So Close is the debut novel from clinical psychologist Luana Lewis, who has crafted a tightly written thriller that plays on the uncertain relationships between the characters.
The book alternates between three separate timelines: the present, where Stella is trapped in her home with teenager Blue, Stella’s past as a newly qualified psychologist dealing with a difficult case for the family court, and a series of sessions between a psychologist and his troubled patient.
The short, tense chapters drive the reader forward through the story, a sense of unease building. It is difficult to be certain of events, not only because of the shifting timeline, but also because both Stella and Blue have troubled histories that might have influenced the stories they tell. You can never quite be sure of the truth.
This is a compelling book, but I’m not sure I can say I enjoyed it. It’s an uncomfortable read; but then that’s the point. With themes of abuse, psychological trauma and hidden truths, this isn’t an easy story, but it is one that will have you turning the pages, a feeling of dread in the pit of your stomach.
Of all the main characters, Stella’s husband Max is the most unknowable, as he seems to reveal little of his true feelings. This provides an interesting parallel with another of the male characters, Dr. Lawrence Simpson, who has been forced by the family court to undergo review sessions with Stella. Simpson is purposefully obstructive, knowingly revealing little of his true nature in order to make it difficult for her to compile a report for the court. He cannot relinquish control of the situation.
It seems ironic that whilst Stella’s focus has been on Simpson, who constantly challenges her, angrily refusing to reveal any of himself and his personality, it is Max who manages to keep much more of his inner world beyond her reach. Stella is so preoccupied with Simpson, that she cannot see how little she actually knows of her husband.
As you’d expect from a psychological thriller, this novel is full of twists but it also creates a sense of foreboding that allows the reader to understand the direction the story is going to take.
Ultimately this is a tale of control, both outward and inward. Control over those who are weaker in some way, thanks to a traumatic past, and control over the true nature of the character. It is through the medium of control that the author examines the issue of abuse and explores the idea that it can take many forms and an abuser can wear any number of faces.
A troubling story full of parallels that will appeal to those who enjoy work by writers such as Sophie Hannah.
Find out more about the book:
Don’t Stand So Close on Amazon (affiliate link)
Don’t Stand So Close on Goodreads
Please note: I received an advance e-copy of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley for the purpose of writing a review, but all opinions are my own.