Mysteries can be tricky, especially if you read a lot of them. You’ll come across a book with a super appealing blurb, only to start reading something that feels overly familiar and trite. Certain tropes are overused, and it takes a really good author to be able to revitalise them. Fortunately, that’s what Sharon Bolton does in The Split, putting a unique spin on a trope I often find tiresome and turning this into a book I’m really happy I didn’t give up on.
Our heroine Felicity is in her late twenties, and she lives a pretty solitary life, concentrating mostly on her career. She studies the formation of glaciers, something most people wouldn’t find overly captivating, but Felicity takes comfort in the rugged beauty of some of the world’s most isolated places. The fact that she doesn’t have to deal with many people in her line of work is an added bonus, and something that takes on an added layer of significance as the story progresses.
When the book opens, Felicity is heaving a sigh of relief that the last boat of the season has just docked on the island of South Georgia in the South Atlantic. She’s been on assignment there for the past several months, and she’s been living in fear that her ex-husband Freddie, recently freed from prison, will somehow manage to track her down. Now though, with the island pretty much closed to visitors for the winter, she doesn’t have to worry quite so much. Or does she?
Initially, the reader isn’t sure why Felicity is so afraid of Freddie, and in a strange way, you’re not always sure Felicity knows the reason behind her fear either. Be patient though, because the story does go back in time, providing you with all the insight you’ll need to understand this complex situation.
Nine months earlier, Felicity is reluctantly beginning a series of counseling sessions with Joe Grant, a local therapist. Felicity is desperate to secure a position on South Georgia, thinking the remote locale is just what she needs to help her cope with the emotional distress she’s been dealing with, but her superiors want her to get some counseling first. It seems she’s been experiencing some blackouts, and she’s also convinced someone is stalking her.
Joe, who has just started working again after taking time off after a traumatic incident involving one of his patients, is immediately intrigued by Felicity. He senses she’s not being completely honest with him about her symptoms, but hopes she’ll open up more as their sessions continue. He finds himself unable to stop thinking about her between sessions, and it isn’t long before certain people in his life begin questioning Joe’s ability to treat her objectively.
Over the next couple of sessions, it becomes clear to Joe that Felicity is seriously ill. She has huge gaps in her memory, and those gaps happen to correspond to a series of suspicious murders that have taken place around the city. And then, just as Joe begins to think he’s on the verge of breaking through Felicity’s walls, she reveals that she’s married, though she has no clear memories of her husband. She just knows she’s terribly frightened of him, and she’s determined to spend the next several months on South Georgia, where she’s sure he’ll never find her.
The story is pretty evenly split between the perspectives of Joe and Felicity, but we’re treated to some brief glimpses into the minds of supporting characters as well. At first, I wondered what these seemingly random people would be able to add to the story, but as things progressed, I realized they offered some insights it would be hard to obtain in any other way.
All of this feels kind of confusing, right? Well, that’s just the way the author intended it. This is a complicated story with several different plotlines going on at once, and you’ll have to do your best to take the confusion in stride until you reach the last quarter of the book. If you’re able to hang in there, all your questions will be answered, and you’ll be in for a wonderfully chilling surprise.
The novel’s setting is one of the best things about it. I read a lot of books set in places like New York or London, but this is the first book I’ve read set on South Georgia. It’s desolate and dangerous, the perfect stage for the terrifying story Ms. Bolton has concocted. I could practically feel the extreme cold as I read, even though I was safely tucked up in my warm bed. That’s honestly how evocative her writing is.
As I said above, parts of The Split feel unoriginal, and I did consider putting the book aside a time or two, but as I continued reading, I realized I had no real idea where the story was going. No matter how many times I convinced myself I knew exactly what was going on, something would inevitably happen to blow my theory right out of the water. I love books that are able to keep me guessing right up until the end, and for the most part, that’s what this one did.
This isn’t a book that will reach out and grab you as soon as you pick it up. Lots of things don’t make sense at first, and certain aspects of the plot felt a little too convenient for my liking. Still, if you’re able to get past the slow and confusing start, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what the story has to offer.