Blog Tour – The Exclusives – Rebecca Thornton

BLURB:  1996. Freya Seymour and Josephine Grey are invincible – beautiful and brilliant, the two best friends are on the cusp of Oxbridge, and the success they always dreamed they’d share.

2014. Freya gets in touch, looking for a conversation Josephine has run away from for eighteen long and tortured years.

Beginning with one ill-fated night, The Exclusives charts the agonising spiral of friendship gone wrong, the heartache and betrayal of letting down those closest to you and the poisonous possibilities of what we wouldn’t do when everything we prize is placed under threat.

And in the end, as she realises she cannot run for ever, Josephine must answer one question: is it Freya she cannot face, or is it her own darkest secret?

The Exclusives is Rebecca Thornton’s powerful debut novel about friendship and tragedy at an exclusive boarding school.

The Exclusives, the debut novel by Rachel Thornton, another alumni of the Faber Academy, is the story of two best friends, Josephine and Freya. Their fathers grew up as best friends, and encouraged the girls to have a similar relationship. There are no mother figures on the scene – Josephine’s mother has succumbed to severe mental illness (and her daughter was terrified it would be genetic), and Freya’s mother had died of cancer 3 or 4 years previously, and she has a brother, Leon.

The book moves well between 1996, their final school year, and 2014, when Josephine, now an archaeologist working in Jordan, gets an e-mail from Freya, asking if they can meet, despite an 18-year gap in contact. Initially Josephine puts her off, seeing no point in digging up the past (ironic for an archaeologist!) But she eventually decides to bite the bullet, as she is so stressed at not knowing what Freya wants to say she’s making herself ill. It seems easier to get it over with rather than keep torturing herself indefinitely.

Now, I don’t know any of your family backgrounds, and you don’t much about me, except what I say on the blog, but I very much doubt many of us, if any, could relate to the world these girls live in. Josephine’s father is Permanent Secretary, and spends all his time with “the PM”, and has to dash off when his phone rings, and is almost always abroad when his daughter is home from school. Trying to help fix the country is more important than fixing his own family. As a result, she has a room at Rollo’s (Freya’s dad, who also does something very Establishment and lucrative), and it’s her second home.

One night, on their last “exeat” (which appears to mean a weekend at home – there are lots of such strange school names for things! No tuck, though!), the girls decide to have a wild night out in London. It’s a last hurrah, as when they return the prefects, of which Verity is one, Deputy Head Girl, Verity Green space, Josephine’s nemesis, and Head Girl Josephine (who’s also magazine editor) are expected to act as an example to the other girls. They’re hugely prestigious and responsible positions, as well as aiding university applications. So they head out to a club, and the night is certainly wild…

Problems start the very next day when they react differently about the night’s events: one wants to bury her head in the sand, and forget everything that happened; the other feels talking it over would be more therapeutic and certainly make her feel better. They part on bad terms – but one of the girls doesn’t realise how angry her old friend is. So the big gossip once they’re back at school is, Freya and Josephine have fallen out. And Freya’s new best friend? Verity, Josephine’s main rival academically, and for the Anne Dunne Scholarship. This guarantees entry at Oxford without all the usual interviews, assuming the required exam results are attained.

After that, we have – at last – the real page-turning portion of the novel – revenge, recriminations, sexual accusations – which are possibly ruinous. But who was responsible? And have they covered their back – completely? There’s a wonderful nail-biting scene, featuring a school meeting amongst the possible guilty parties, their parents, and some of the staff…I was literally cringing for the character! Yet she was still, desperately, in her head, trying to find a way out. For her, the possibility of failure just did not exist. Possibly as it had never happened to her before.

Then it’s to 2014, and the first meeting between the former best friends in eighteen years. Who knows exactly what? What are each’s intentions? Will one end up seeking revenge on the other? It does take quite a while to get to this point, but it’s easy to keep turning the pages, as the prose was nicely straightforward, and felt like a – highly intelligent – teenager’s mind.  The author presumably knows this world well. If I had a criticism, it was that the girls were taught they only had one shot at academic success, and there are no second chances in life, which is a dreadful message to pass on to girls at such a vulnerable and psychologically intense time of their life. Most of the responsibility for that appears to lie at the door of parents’, and the school. You can see that it wouldn’t be impossible to crack under the pressure.

So I think I’ll revise my dreams of the Chalet School (my personal favourite fictional boarding school) – if this is what boarding school does to children/teenagers, they can keep them!

Cleo at CleopatraLovesBooks, whose review I’ve just read, and you can link to there, commented on the excellent releases from Twenty 7, a relatively new imprint from the Bonnier Group which concentrates on debut novels. They also publish then in e-book format a few months before the paperback is released. I wouldn’t have thought to mention it myself, but she’s right – the Twenty 7 novels I’ve read have all been of an excellent standard, so kudos to them for that! (And to Cleo for pointing it out!)

PS I did wonder if Rebecca Thornton is an alumni of Oxford, as it was the only university mentioned, apart from someone saying “Oxbridge” once!

Very enjoyable (and made me glad I was no longer a teenager!)

The Exclusives was released on e-book on December 10th, £4.74, and will be available in paperback in April, £7.99.

 

 

 

12 thoughts on “Blog Tour – The Exclusives – Rebecca Thornton

  1. I know; the pressure put on these girls to be perfect is horrendous. And not just academically – in sports, to be the thinnest, the prettiest, to go to the most exotic holiday destination! It made me glad I grew up in a normal(ish!) family!

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  2. Sounds like an enjoyable read. There seems to be quite a few novels with this similar themology out at the moment: coming-of-age-deep-dark-hopes-fears-soul searching. I hadn’t expected to, but I must admit I enjoy them! Thanks for this review. Definitely one I may pick up in due course X

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    • I rather enjoy them too – I thought I’d struggle to relate to two teenagers, and thought my daughter might be better reviewing it, but we all remember those years! I’ve noticed a lot of novels about people with deep dark secrets they think no-one knows, and we’re reading wondering who wants revenge, and what for – I wish I could think up a good scenario like that! If the writer’s good at the psychology of people, they can be great books. Although I doubt you’re getting much reading time atm! x

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  3. Great review, Linda – and you too (as ever) Cleo. I’m 86% of the way through The Exclusives and really engrossed. And thanks also for the kind comments about Twenty7 – as you rightly say, they are a new company but built on very reliable shoulders and they are doing a fantastic job for their authors. We are all new to this and understandably vulnerable but the positive and intuitive comments from bloggers and reviewers play a major role in settling the nerves and helping us to come to terms with the bizarre notion that people are actually buying, reading and enjoying something we’ve created. We possibly don’t say as often as we should just how much your support is appreciated. Thank you. Graham (hoping Cleo is still linked and gets this message too!)

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    • Thanks Graham, for your kind comments on the review. Oddly enough, The Hidden Legacy is next in my TBR pile (it’ll rise up quickly as I read at least three books at once, so hopefully before New Year I’ll have it reviewed – I’ll tell my parents I have a really important review deadline to escape the family if required over the holidays! Can I ask, what happens to you for your next book? Are you passed over to another imprint; the most appropriate one? And does that mean working with a whole new team? The early e-book release is an interesting idea too, for getting people talking about a book before it’s in the shops. I think we’ll see more imprints tailored for debut authors – I wouldn’t have a clue what to expect if I was told I was getting published (although I’d have to FINISH A BOOK first!) There are so many more options in publishing nowadays – look at how well Rachel Abbott’s done. I’ll let Cleo know you’ve left a message somehow!

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      • Hi again!

        In answer to your questions regarding Twenty7 (and with apologies if there are any inaccuracies here):

        Its business plan is to identify new authors who don’t have a publishing deal but who are deemed to have the potential to have successful careers and then develop them. I believe the original idea was to choose 27 of them for the first cohort but I suspect they’ve gone over that number by now. You’re absolutely right about the idea of eBook first to drum up interest in advance of the paperback release. Then, once we are no longer debut authors, we move over to Zaffre, another of Bonnier’s imprints, but continue to work with the same team from first edit right through to publication to ensure continuity. What this has achieved is a remarkably supportive environment for writers to get on with their work. I suppose it may be the sense of a shared new venture for the various teams, allied to the excitement for the writers themselves at finally being recognised and given the opportunity to share their work with a wider audience. It has engendered an atmosphere in which everyone is looking for an excuse to support everyone else which possibly goes against the traditional perception of writers and their interaction with each other. As you say, there are so many models out there now but we really do feel fortunate to be part of what’s happening at Twenty7.

        As for The Hidden Legacy, thank you for including it in your reading pile although it feels a bit cheesy to be saying that on this forum. I just hope you like it. We’re all still at that stage where we’re having difficulty in coming to terms with the idea that people are paying good money to read something we’ve produced. I think unreal is the word! Thanks again.

        Graham

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    • It does very much get your nosy genes twitching, definitely. As you’re reading, you’re thinking, did this happen? Did that happen? Could it be…? – and all sorts of scenarios are going through your mind. The setting inside a modern female boarding school (which has to be a circle of hell, seriously!) was quite clever, as it’d be alien to most readers, and so all the more fascinating for it. Plus if a lot of readers were like me, they’d have read boarding school stories when they were young, so there’s a touch of nostalgia there!

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    • There’s a lot of good crime novels around that are sort of “psychological puzzles” which, when they’re done well, I’m a real sucker for. Blame Gone Girl/Before I Go To Sleep! I keep intending to read more literary fiction and the odd classic, but these sort of books seem slow when you’re as used to faster-moving stuff, like crime fiction. Nice of you to pop by – I’ll be popping over to your blog to see what you’ve been reading!

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