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Stevenson sets up an evocative character study in her effective but occasionally turgid first novel, as she examines the plight of a beautiful, rudderless 19-year-old London girl who uses an affair with an older man to escape a destructive relationship with her boyfriend and make her leap into the adult world. On the surface, the gorgeous Emily has a lifestyle that offers more than enough hedonistic pleasures, including plenty of sex, drugs and alcohol and a freewheeling, intense relationship with her equally handsome but rather aloof beau, Tom. But Tom's charm gives way to some brutal controlling tendencies once the parties begin to wind down, and to find her emotional match Emily turns to Tom's older, married cousin Simon, a successful journalist. The plot follows a familiar emotional arc as Simon and Emily become intimate and Emily wonders whether Simon will leave his lovely but damaged wife, Rachel. Tom hovers menacingly in the background after Emily breaks up with him, and Stevenson lapses into melodrama when Emily tries to deal with Tom's backstabbing, Simon's failure to follow his heart and Rachel's intransigence. The insular nature of the narrative undermines Stevenson's fine work in developing Emily, but the quality character writing bodes well for Stevenson's future.
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The summer before she begins university, 19-year-old Londoner Emily loses herself in glitzy, booze-and-drug soaked evenings with her well-heeled friends and gorgeous boyfriend, Tom. But Emily doesn't love Tom, and the "parody of intimacy" she shares with her friends has only left her feeling more alone. Only Tom's married, twentysomething cousin, Simon, makes her feel the transformation of first love, and when she begins an affair with him, she feels hope that she never felt growing up in a tense family with an adulterous father. After the affair is revealed, there are violent echoes of the Greek tragedies Emily learned as a child, in which life seems to be "constructed of nothing more than dirty coincidence." A Whitbread Finalist for First Novel, Stevenson's novel examines the powerful legacy of infidelity and the pivotal moments that make up larger acts of betrayal and love. Emily notices everything, and her raw, first-person voice is filled with astonishing, precise insights into human nature that will leave readers feeling both wiser and exposed. An accomplished debut. Gillian Engberg
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