Book review: The Therapist by B A Paris

The summer holidays are here, so for the next three weeks I’ll be relaxing and reviewing non- fiction with a mental health theme. First up is The Therapist by B A Paris. It’s a murder mystery. The pretty blonde therapist, Nina, is dead and the reader needs to keep awake while the plodding plot reveals who killed her. I don’t read a lot of thrillers, but the ones I have read have been captivating, pacy and post modern. Like Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train.

This one isn’t in that league. My main problem with The Therapist by B A Paris, was that I found the characters so vague and insipid, that it became hard to care who killed counsellor Nina, or why. It was a struggle to make it to the end of the book, but I did. And that alone deserves a celebratory raspberry juice with mint leaf garnish.

The plot of The Therapist

The story revolves around Alice and her partner Leo, they’ve just moved into an upmarket gated community, known as the crescent. They’re fleetingly happy; settling into life as a couple, meeting their new neighbours and showing off their extension. But this all ends when Alice finds out that her new home was the scene of Nina’s grisly murder. Not only that but Leo knew, and decided not to tell her. Oh, Leo. They decide to separate so Alice has time to process her feelings and ponder their future together. Alice stays in the house throughout their separation, but feels alarmingly tense and uncomfortable…

In an unlikely back story, Alice had a sister called Nina who died in a car crash. Because of this, Alice is aware that she develops an unhealthy fixation on anyone called Nina. It doesn’t say she is a massive Nina Simone fan, but she should be. This is a flimsy plot point which is used to rationalise why Alice can’t accept the findings of the police investigation. Instead she tries to solve Nina’s murder herself. It also flies in the face of Jung’s theory, that, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” Alice is conscious of her Nina obsession but cannot stop. Either Jung is wrong or B A Paris is.

The dialogue, characters and the setting

The dialogue is clunky, which meant I found it really hard to get into the flow of this book. All the characters spoke in long overly formal, slightly stilted sentences which sound nothing like real life conversation. For example, “We talked about Nina, and she told me that Nina had had an affair. So now I’m thinking that maybe it wasn’t her husband who killed her but the person she was having an affair with.”

There’s a character in the book who’s a seemingly meek, elderly lady. She wears pearls and twin set cardigans. Not only this but when she gets anxious or panicked she clutches the pearls. Literally, clutches her pearls. It’s one step away from a swoon. Later on in the novel, a good looking man touches Alice’s hand. She pulls away, “Confused by the electricity shooting through me at the feel of his skin.”

I’m not sure whether this is lazy, cliched writing or just a good beach read.

And this reliance on tropes and stereotypes continues throughout The Therapist. Among the characters we have: Tamsin, the beautiful woman who can also be a bitch, a clique of ladies that lunch and do yoga, and the idle residents of the crescent who are endlessly popping round each others houses for coffee and not doing any work, despite living in one of the pricier parts of London.

The Therapist’s not all bad though

Because the gated community is crescent shaped the author does a good job of creating the tension that comes with feeling you’re being watched. It reminded me of Panoptican’s prison (pictured), and conjured the same feeling of unease. There’s little trust among the neighbours and suspicion is rife. So under the facade of neighbourly politeness, and well tended lawns the pressure simmers away, but never quite reaches boiling point.

If you’re looking for a great summer read with a mental health theme, then The Therapist by B A Paris probably isn’t it. If it wasn’t worth my time, it won’t be worth yours. So my search for a newly released novel with mental health at its heart continues. And any suggestions from you are most welcome. Next week’s book review will be of Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason.