Tara Fraser has committed a serious crime and paid the price for it. After eleven years in prison, she is finally free to start all over again. But she has to move away from London.
London was full of weird people. Once, that had been part of the thrill of living here, but not now. Where should she go?
Randomly, she chooses a small town near the sea in Cumbria. The authorities help her find a small terraced house and a factory job where she can hide away from prying eyes. It will be a dreary life, but she is determined to live it quietly and privately; very different from before. She has a new name: Sarah Scott. She will stay in the background, talk to no one and keep to herself.
She was aware that in trying so hard to be anonymous she was presenting herself as odd, a strange, nervous, bland woman.
Her elderly neighbour, Nancy, is extremely curious about her. She watches her every move from behind her curtains. She can see her through the open curtain in the bedroom. She knows exactly what time she leaves for work, how long she is away and how still she is when she lies on her back in bed.
This woman entered her house in the dark and put no lights on for a full ten minutes or more. How did she manage to see her way round?
Tara does not want to make any friends. Even her old school friends are dead to her. They had let her down when she needed them most. But when she receives a letter from one of them inviting her to a reunion, she is tempted to go, just for the “possibility of relishing someone else’s guilt or remorse.”
Tara is under no illusions about her own faults. “I’m full of lies, and I’m sorry,” she tells Nancy on one occasion. She knows she has a temper and can lash out. Her foster parents had tried to give her all the love and attention she needed. But she had been a difficult child and a very problematic adolescent. Her friends’ parents thought she was a bad influence and could not understand why children were drawn to her, wanting to follow her.
She’d had time even before she became Sarah, during all those years of reflection, to realise she had always been a dangerous person.
Tara does not really like Nancy’s company, but she realises there are times when she needs her. This is usually when she wants something from her. She likes the fact that Nancy does not “prod and poke and drag out any history.” But several times, she hurts Nancy’s feelings.
Nancy worried that Sarah had been mocking her. Had she been trying to suppress laughter? But there was nothing funny about measuring a cow.
The two of them develop a strange relationship, though it cannot be called a friendship. Nancy comes to the “conclusion that Sarah had some sort of fence around her. No, she didn’t mean fence, not a real fence obviously, but a barrier of some kind which gave off a Do not approach me signal.”
The time soon comes when Tara realises she need to return to her old life and face the people she has left behind. It is going to be difficult, but she has to try.
It was like trying to leap over a huge crack in the ground, beneath which a stream of memory raged. There was no bridge, the jump had to be made, and once made she would be safe, in new country.
But will she really be safe? And will people around her be safe? This is what the reader will wonder about, because Tara’s character is so complex. She is difficult to befriend and even more difficult to live with. She needs help, but it is not easy to help her. The story is quite disturbing from many points of view. But it is fascinating too. The author keeps us guessing about the crime Tara has committed, and when we find out, it is quite a shock. The book is unsettling, but it is hard to put down. A compelling read, written beautifully by an accomplished author.