Monday 1 April 2013

The Safest Place by Suzanne Bugler

The Safest Place was published by Pan Macmillan on 14 March 2013 and is Suzanne Bugler's third adult novel.

The central theme running through this story is that 'the grass is not always greener', although Jane Berry does her very best to convince herself and everyone else that she comes into contact with that by moving her
family out of London and into the countryside, she really has found happiness.  The story is narrated by Jane, a forty-something mother of two, married to David and now a stay-at-home-Mum.  Jane and David had a great life before the kids came along, based in central London, working in the magazine publishing industry, close to the shops, the best places to eat and the theatres, life was good.  They were delighted when the children came along, but life changed.   The house seemed to be smaller, Jane no longer went to work, the pressure to make sure that the children had the best of everything, including the best education became overpowering and engulfed their lives.   It was seeing their son Sam become a victim of bullying and retreat into himself that was the final straw for Jane.   Her mission was to find her family the perfect home - the safest place - away from the pressure of London, away from the rough local schools. Somewhere where the family could live in peace.    OK, so David will face hours of commuting, maybe Jane and the children won't see him as much as they would like, but surely coming home to the peaceful and tranquil village that they move to will be better all round than the noise and the dirt and the pressure of London?  Won't it???

The Safest Place is narrated by Jane, some would say that she is a typical unreliable narrator, that she does her best to convince the reader that every action that she took during this story was for the benefit of her family.  Looking a little deeper, it is clear that Jane is an incredibly truthful narrator, she is telling her story as it really was, and not as she wanted and even prayed for it to turn out.  Jane is truthful and honest and acutely aware of her failings.

Suzanne Bugler has created an ordinary world, yet her extraordinary writing transforms the everyday happenings into a dark, forbidding story that builds intensely page by page until the unthinkable happens.  Jane, despite her constant justification for her behaviour, is an honest, if unpleasant character whose life goes completely out of control once she has got her wish and the family move to the country.   The author draws characters with ease, from the flighty and somewhat dangerous new friend Melanie, to the shy and tormented son Sam.  David the husband is a shadowy figure throughout the story, the reader never really gets to find out just what goes on in his mind, he is portrayed as a sad, almost downtrodden guy who just wants to please everyone.

There is something about this dark story about ordinary, everyday people that is utterly compelling and very hard to put down.  I found myself almost screaming at Jane at time, her behaviour is so frustrating and the reader knows that things are just not going to work out, even if the character pretends not to.  The shock though, for the reader, is that the incident that finally breaks Jane is totally unexpected, and never quite resolved.

This is a short novel at just over 300 pages and becomes more compelling as each page is turned.  Most certainly my favourite book by Suzanne Bugler yet.

Suzanne Bugler lives in south west London with her husband and two sons. She is the author of This Perfect World, and The Child Inside and has also written two novels for young adults: Staring Up at the Sun and Meet Me at the Boathouse.

Find Suzanne on Facebook here.  Follow her on Twitter here 

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