Reviewed by Wendy Lipke
When I look back I am utterly appalled at what I did, at who I was. Yes, I was insecure, yes, I was worried about losing my precarious place in the social pecking order, but everyone had to exist in that hierarchy, didn’t they? But not everyone did what I did. Not everyone was so…weak. I look at my son, and if anyone ever treated him the way I treated Maria, I would want to rip them apart with my bare hands” (305-306).
Laura Marshall’s debut novel was written in first draft form while the author was undertaking a three month writing course at Curtis Browne Creative. It then bore the title Words will never hurt me. The renamed final edition was shortlisted for the Lucy Cavendish Award and the Bath Novel Award in 2016. Laura, a freelance conference producer, lives in Kent with her family.
The author is fascinated by society in the 21st century, particularly the pressures invoked to conform and the problems that surface as a result. The spectre of Facebook on everyday lives can be damaging when there is a belief that our lives when compared to those of our “friends” portrayed on the screen, do not make the grade, and we feel diminished by the comparison.
It is in this environment that Friend Request, a pathological thriller, is written.
Louise Williams is a single mum with a four year old son. Her husband has left her for another woman. She is feeling the pressure of having no husband, of having to look after her son alone, and of building her interior design business. Without warning, she receives a friend request on Facebook from a school friend from 25 years ago. This sends her into a spiral of paranoia because she has carried a deep guilt about how she treated Maria, the new girl to the school. She believes that what she did was responsible for Maria’s going missing, presumed dead, although her body was never found.
Very few people knew what Louise had done back in 1989 and she was not going to tell now, but when she begins receiving frightening messages on her phone she needs to try to rationalize what is going on. This has her reaching out to people she had not contacted since her school days. The messages she receives and the feelings of being watched and followed, build up her paranoia.
When she finds out about a class reunion, she reluctantly comes to the belief that this might be a way of unveiling what has been happening. However, when Sophia, one of the “cool” girls and instigator of much of the bullying against Maria, is found dead after the reunion, things start to unravel quickly… but Louise does not see the real danger to herself until it is too late.
At first I found this book a bit depressing and negative. The story is told through Louisa’s perspective and I became frustrated with her and the situation she had found herself in. She seemed so inwardly thinking, deliberately shutting herself off from the world around her. I was also a bit confused about the italicized chapters which from my reading could have been about anyone. At the end of the book when all is revealed the pace becomes breathtaking. I was lulled by the author’s style into a comfort zone and did not feel the dread and fear of the situation myself until the very end.
However, I did enjoy the story and I believe it accurately reflects the power of wanting to be part of the “power group” as teenagers are growing up and the dangers that can lurk on social media. It is also a stark reminder that all our actions have consequences and that there are others apart from ourselves who need consideration when choices are being made.
The author stumbles a little as she manipulates the events in the book but loses her irresolution as the book develops. Towards the end the story is gripping and the book becomes one I would recommend.
By Laura Marshall