Pretty Is by Maggie Mitchell

Pretty Is focuses on two women who, at the age of 12, were kidnapped and held captive for a period of approximately two months.

Now in their early thirties, Lois is a professor of literature who has written and published a book “Deep in the Woods”, the contents of which are loosely based upon that experience.  Carly May, who has changed her name to Chloe to distance herself from her past, works as an actress, and is offered a part in the film adaptation of Deep in the Woods purely by coincidence – her agent not realising that the story is partly about her.

Reading the script, Carly May is both angry and intrigued at this exposure of her past, even though no one makes the connection to her.  Yet she agrees to the part that has been offered, and both women begin to confront their shared past and the impact that this has had on their lives.

Pretty Is alternates between Lois and Carly May’s viewpoints, and the reader sees the impact that this event has had on their lives.  Lois has few friends and has to deal with a difficult, obsessive student.  Carly May has also isolated herself, and floats from date to date between acting and modelling jobs, drinking too much and worrying that her career is over before it ever really got started.

I really liked the sound of Pretty Is – it’s an idea with a lot of potential, but unfortunately failed to deliver for me.  I had a lot of unanswered questions by the end of the novel, particularly around Sean – Lois’s student turned stalker – what were his motives?   Whilst I’m happy with some ambiguity in the end of a novel, I don’t like to be left wondering what the whole point of a character was, particularly when he plays such a significant role.

Similarly, the ending was unsatisfactory – for all of the build up over the preceding 300 or so pages, the ending was anti-climatic and over far too quickly.  The novel is quite slow paced too – it picks up a little when Carly May and Lois are finally reunited, but this is such a tiny portion of the book.  For me, I think that it would have been more interesting for them to have met up earlier in the narrative.  It might have given them some closure too – something they never obtain.

One thing I did like about the novel was the change in style in part 2 – instead of alternating between the two viewpoints of the main characters, we get an excerpt of Deep in the Woods – the novel Lois wrote.  This does two things:

  • It gives the reader much of the background as to what actually happened when they were kidnapped
  • At the same time, the reader is forced to question the events presented here – we know that Lois’s novel isn’t entirely true, and so the reader questions the events as they are presented here

I found this interesting, as it’s essentially what Lois was letting the world know about that experience, how much she was prepared to share, and the reader soon discovers that admissions were made.  I thought that this was an extremely clever narrative device, and found the change in style to be refreshing.

In summary, this is a great idea with lots of potential, but the execution didn’t quite do it for me.  I found it to be too slow paced and couldn’t really engage with the characters.

Many thanks to Sam Eades at Orion Publishing Group for providing a copy for review.

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