Book Review: The Lodger by C. L. Taylor

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“MY WORLD becomes dark and loud as I’m tossed, turned and twisted. Over and over I turn, my breath burning in my lungs, the river roaring in my ears.”

Having read a couple of books by Cally which I have reviewed recently, I must admit that I’ve got a soft spot for dysfunctional people and families with unstable and unhappy relationships. It mirrors the lives of many of us. Some of us don’t seem to get it right with the happy ever after bit.

When 25-year-old Joe is introduced you get the feeling that he is infatuated with Laura, the protagonist. Joe is Ian’s brother, labelled the lady-killer, vivacious, outspoken and the look before you leap type, whatever that means! So, is he presented as a good guy or a bad one? Find out.

Whilst at work, Laura receives an email from Ian, an old flame from her university days asking if she can put up Joe for a couple of nights because he has just been kicked out of his flat. The “chemistry wasn’t there” between Ian and Laura but the pair have remained on close terms. Laura has two spare rooms but seems reluctant to put him up after recent traumatic events which focus the story on the tragic death of Steven, her fiance.

“The river snatched him from me and there was nothing I could do but watch as the current carried him away.” Be warned: never take things at face value with Cally. When she develops her characters we may see polar opposites: good and evil as she slowly reveals the darker side of the villains.

Significantly, the story begins on the anniversary of Steven’s death. A group of them: Ian, his wife, Sarah, brother Joe, Laura and fiance were holidaying in Wales, ready to have a picnic by the river when he drowned. Steven couldn’t swim, although the others still encouraged him to get into the water. Then the tragedy happened.

They met in Steven’s favourite pub to remember him. Laura had been suffering flashbacks of the event which seemed to have paralysed her. Ian tried to console her by telling her that they were all responsible for his death. Too many memories “locked within its walls” and before long Laura made the painful decision to sell the house. We soon become aware of Laura’s paranoia that she is being watched: “I don’t feel right and I can’t shake the feeling that something, or someone is in my house”

Returning from work one day, she opens the door and calls out, convinced that someone is inside. When she sees half a dozen cds scattered on the floor she is reminded of one of Steven’s habits and panics. When she is more rational, she realises that she has been burgled so she makes the decision to let Joe stay with her to make her feel safe.

In her paranoia she sees Joe wearing Steven’s dressing gown and this freaks her out. In her distress, her body ragdoll limp, threw her off balance, knowing that she had given away all of Steven’s clothing to a charity shop months ago.

“I can’t play act being a couple, no matter how innocent, when the ghost of Steven haunts every room of this house.” A mysterious character has been documenting his life with Laura in a diary and it proves to be difficult to stomach. This one is in italics and it is typical of Cally to use this technique in her books.

Forget the drowning for a moment. When Laura watches a romantic film: The Notebook after knocking back two bottles of wine before bursting into tears the truth starts to come out bit by bit. “It portrayed the one thing I’d always wanted-love. Pure, untainted love that lasts a lifetime.”

She thought she had found the “man of {her} dreams.” Don’t jump to conclusions. Anger emerged which had been “simmering” inside her for the past year. She then acted out of character by throwing the glass at the wall, followed by a bottle, then the remote.

“Lost in a red mist of rage I whirled through the living room destroying everything and anything that wasn’t nailed down.”

Laura seems to be on a downward spiral, a path of self-destruction but finding a diary helps to put things into perspective and leads to an alarming conclusion. How dark is dark? Is Laura strong enough to survive?

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