Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Published: (UK) August 8th, 2019
(US) January 28th, 2020
Format: Hardcover, Kindle.
Genre: Suspense, psychological fiction, coming of age fiction.
People disappear when they most want to be seen. During the first year of university, a group of friends discover the true cost of an extraordinary life in this captivating debut novel about obsession, rivalry and coming of age.
Jess Walker, middle child of a middle class family, has perfected the art of vanishing in plain sight. But when she arrives at a concrete university campus under flat, grey East Anglican skies, her world flares with colour.
Drawn into a tightly-knit group of rule breakers – headed up by their maverick teacher Lorna Clay – Jess begins to experiment with a new version of herself. But the dynamic between the friends begins to darken as they share secrets, lovers and finally a tragedy. Jess is thrown up against the question she fears most: what is the true cost of the extraordinary?
“A tiny, insignificant crime. It’s only now, looking back at all the choices I was about to make, that I detect the faintest of watermarks, the first of many lines I was about to cross.”
Jess Walker had always yearned for the extraordinary. After she reads a novel that changes her life she applies to the University where the author, Lorna Clay, is a tutor. When she’s accepted she thinks this could be the beginning of the life she’s longed for. But Jess’s dream is about to descend into a nightmare in this coming of age story of friendship, love, obsession and tragedy.
The atmosphere is thick with foreboding from the start, like the wheels have been set in motion and they’re powerless to prevent disaster. Truths are slowly revealed, tragedy strikes and the lives of those involved will never be the same again. It is a stark reminder of the consequences of even the seemingly small, insignificant decisions we make in our lives, and how quickly life can change into something unrecognisable that can’t be put back together like it was before.
“Amazing how, with three little words, she’d relieved me if the mantle of my ordinariness, made me believe that I had done something brave and true.”
I liked Jess and found her to be a relatable protagonist. I think we can all recognise that feeling of wanting more out of life, longing for adventure and wanting to be seen. We’ve all been that young person who’s trying to figure out who they are and what their place is in the world. And we all remember the first time we fell in love. I understood her desire to reinvent herself after an unhappy life and why she was drawn to the outgoing, rule-breakers who are the centre of attention of any room rather than fading quietly into the shadows as she has always done. But she doesn’t see the darker side of these people, what they’re masking with their extrovert personalities and lifestyle, how adept some of them are at manipulation and deceit.
Though Jess is our main character, Dr Lorna Clay feels like she’s at the centre of this book from the start. Her book has become a kind of manifesto for life for Jess and after meeting her, Jess’ reverence only increases and she truly thinks Lorna will change her life. I was increasingly worried she was heading to have her heart broken by this woman she had put on such a high pedestal and could do nothing to stop it. The friendship between Jess, Georgie, Alec and Nick is integral to the plot and it is the immediate, strong and loyal friendship between Jess and Georgie that starts it all. They are opposites, the yin to each other’s yang, but complement each other wonderfully. The exotic, alluring, charming, Alec someone I felt sure had another level to him, a deeper mystery shrouded between the life he chose to share. He seems to be the ringleader, the one who first suggests they play truant, the one suggesting taking shrooms and smoke by the riverbank, and the one who is dating Georgie but seeming to fan the sparks sizzling between him and Jess, who is dating Nick. I didn’t trust him but couldn’t put my finger on why. I liked the different elements each of the characters brought to the story through their different personalities.
The English Literature course Jess takes focuses on the work of Agatha Christie and both her work and the novel by Lorna Clay, also called The Truants, are referenced throughout. As the story progresses, we see parallels with Christie’s novel and what’s happening to Jess and her friends. I enjoyed this aspect and how literature and reading were such a big part of the storyline. I read The Truants as part of a buddy read and the author shared with us the reading list for Lorna’s course, which I now have added to my own tbr.
The Truants is a well-written, intriguing and multilayered debut. The author combines rich, beautiful prose with dense, cloying apprehension to create a beguiling read that I thoroughly enjoyed.