Book Review: Heatstroke by Hazel Barkworth

Heatstroke by Hazel Barkworth

I received a copy of this book from the publisher.

About The Book

This summer burns with secrets…

It is too hot to sleep. To work. To be questioned time and again by the police.

At the beginning of a stifling, sultry summer, everything shifts irrevocably when Lily doesn’t come home one afternoon.

Rachel is Lily’s teacher. Her daughter Mia is Lily’s best friend. The girls are fifteen – almost women, still children.

As Rachel becomes increasingly fixated on Lily’s absence, she finds herself breaking fragile trusts and confronting impossible choices she never thought she’d face.

It wasn’t supposed to happen like this.

Intoxicating and compulsive, Heatstroke is a darkly gripping, thought-provoking novel of crossed boundaries, power and betrayal, that plays with expectations at every turn.

My Review

Heatstroke by Hazel Barkworth is a tense and uncomfortable read set against the backdrop of a very hot summer. Rachel is a teacher at the school her teenage daughter attends, she’s in her early forties and teaches English and Drama. Her daughter is 15 and is one of a group of girls who have grown up together and are constantly in and out of each other’s houses. They have sleep overs, buoy each other up with compliments on one another’s carefully curated selfies on Instagram and speak to each other in French, plucking phrases and words to punctuate their conversations and make themselves feel older and more cosmopolitan than they are. When one of them, Lily, goes missing it sends shockwaves through their closely knit group and through the school.

This is a sumptuous read which is an exploration of womanhood, motherhood, identity and our sense of self. At the centre of the novel we have Rachel, struggling to reconcile that she is getting older. Her husband is working away leaving her alone with their daughter Mia. She feels lonely and unloved, and the presence of a teenage girl on the cusp of womanhood is a constant reminder that her youth is behind her.

Then we have the missing Lilly, who I can’t really talk much about lest I spoil it for you. Her disappearance leaves her friends and family reeling and the press and media become a fixture at the school she attends. The biggest impact is felt in her friendship group who are at turns confused and upset. Hazel Barkworth writes teenage girl friendships, which are at once fiercely loyal and yet incredibly toxic, perfectly. I read through my fingers as these teenage girls spent hours doing their hair and make up to hang round the local park and look at boys. Throw in social media and the number of likes on an Instagram post indicating just how popular you really are and it is a very treacherous landscape.

What I particularly enjoyed in Heatstroke was the depiction of the relationship between Rachel and her daughter. Mia becomes unreachable to her mother, forcing her to resort to increasingly desperate means to find out what is going on inside her head. Rachel’s grief at the loss of her little girl, and the loss of her own youth is palpable and it is this which, for me, formed the crux of the novel.

The tension of a missing girl, Rachel’s descent into desperation and her relationship with both her husband and Mia seeps from the pages. Set during a long, hot summer I could feel the heat adding to the pressure building within the pages. It shimmers on the periphery marring everything in its wake.

It is a fraught and tightly written book which got firmly under my skin. It made my brain tick and cleverly plays with preconceptions creating an immersive and heady read. An accomplished debut with a protagonist who will divide opinion this would be a perfect book club book and one which I highly recommend.

Where You Can Buy It

My thanks to Headline for providing me with a copy of the book via Netgalley.

Heatstroke by Haze Barkworth is out now in both hardcover and ebook.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Heatstroke by Hazel Barkworth

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