Publication Date: Available Now from Bonnier/Twenty7
1996. Freya Seymour and Josephine Grey are invincible – beautiful and brilliant, the two best friends are on the cusp of Oxbridge, and the success they always dreamed they’d share.
2014. Freya gets in touch, looking for a conversation Josephine has run away from for eighteen long and tortured years. Beginning with one ill-fated night, The Exclusives charts the agonising spiral of friendship gone wrong, the heartache and betrayal of letting down those closest to you and the poisonous possibilities of what we wouldn’t do when everything we prize is placed under threat. And in the end, as she realises she cannot run for ever, Josephine must answer one question: is it Freya she cannot face, or is it her own darkest secret?
The Exclusives is Rebecca Thornton’s powerful debut novel about friendship and tragedy at an exclusive boarding school.
I have a bit of a thing for stories set in schools that hold a hint of mystery and a past/present vibe so when I read the blurb for “The Exclusives” the terrific cover having caught my eye I thought AHA. Looks like one for me.
And it was – I loved this – for many reasons, not least of which is the brilliant characterisation, with the girls being portrayed evoking many emotional responses, from deep sympathy to intense dislike. Sign of a good read, that.
Freya is trying to contact Jo – way back when they were the closest of friends – until they were ripped apart by actions and consequences. What those actions were remains obscure for much of the novel, but it is clear that something went very wrong between these two girls which has reverberated down the years.
Rebecca Thornton constructs her plot carefully and compellingly – starting with a night out gone wrong and following on from there, we see snapshots of events unfolding back at their exclusive school and now see Jo in the present willing to go to extreme lengths to avoid coming face to face with Freya again. Atmospherically speaking it is haunting and often very sad, themes of parental and peer pressure run through the narrative, not only that but the pressure we often put on ourselves at a vulnerable age.
The writing style is terrifically engaging and as I mentioned earlier, the author has a great eye for building a character you can love or hate – I went from one extreme to another on both our main protagonists Freya and Jo, also frankly on the external cast, all of whom are perfectly drawn.
It is not actually difficult to work out what happened initially on that first night when the cracks in their friendship started, probably on purpose so you could feel the full horror of what happened next. It is thought provoking, intense at times as you watch how each girl reacts both to the situation and to each other. In the present day it is obvious that Jo is damaged, but one of the things I loved most about this one is the subtle shades of grey that Ms Thornton weaves into the overall storyline, a real feeling for human nature and the things we will do to keep that which we feel we need.
An impressive debut for sure and one that certainly comes highly recommended from me, especially if you like this type of past/present focus and have a thing for enduring characters. This one will stay with you.
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Happy Reading Folks!