Originally published in 2021.
When Alice and Leo move into a newly renovated house in The Circle, a gated community of exclusive houses, it is everything they’ve dreamed of. But appearances can be deceptive…
As Alice is getting to know her neighbours, she discovers a devastating secret about her new home, and begins to feel a strong connection with Nina, the therapist who lived there before.
Alice becomes obsessed with trying to piece together what happened two years before. But no one wants to talk about it. Her neighbors are keeping secrets and things are not as perfect as they seem…
The Therapist is a domestic suspense novel set in a small, gated community in London. It is narrated by Alice who has just moved into one of the homes in the neighborhood with her boyfriend Leo. While she is excited at the prospect of spending more time with him in the future, she is feeling a little lonely as he spends much of the week away while she works from home. Going against Leo’s wishes, she arranges a party to get to know the neighbors but is shocked when an uninvited guest gives her information about their home that makes her realize that her new home is not all it appears to be, making her deeply uncomfortable.
At its core, The Therapist is a book about trust, reflected in multiple relationships to be found within the book. Some examples are the still-new relationship between Alice and Leo, between Alice and her neighbors and between an unnamed therapist and their clients – a relationship explored in short snippets spaced out throughout the novel. As Alice finds herself investigating the truth behind the stories she has heard we see those relationships tested as trust is built and destroyed.
Alice is an amiable but often frustrating protagonist. I empathized with her feelings of isolation and her desire to find friends in her new community but, at times, I found myself annoyed with the decisions she makes. Some of those decisions are consistent with her character’s backstory, though a choice Paris makes to provide the strongest motivation for Alice’s actions only towards the end of the book is not helpful in selling those choices. The result is that readers may spend much of the book wondering why she doesn’t simply leave when she has the chance and that they may be less sympathetic with her choice than they would be if they had all of that information.
Where I think the book achieves its greatest success is in depicting her state of mind as she grows to doubt the safety of her home and the intentions of those around her. I have previously shared on this blog how, years ago, after my home had been burglarized I struggled to feel comfortable in that space and so I could certainly relate to Alice’s growing sense of discomfort with her new home given what she learns and how sinister some of what seems to be happening in that space feels.
The other area in which I think Paris’ story works well is in depicting how the relationship between Alice and Leo changes in response to that information. Given how that relationship is still quite new at the start of the novel, I found the areas in which mistrust grows to be convincing and I think the author succeeds in making the deterioration in that relationship feel both compelling and realistic. I also appreciated the way Paris focuses our attention on a few elements of that relationship, building our anticipation of what we might learn and these generally pay off well, providing the reader with interesting new information that opens up new areas of investigation and conflict.
While I think the book is effective in exploring the sense of a present day threat, I found it less interesting and compelling when looking at the historical crime introduced early in the book. This is partly because I never really felt that I had a handle on the victim’s actual personality as so much of the discussion of them is affected by the way in which the other characters choose to present them as seemingly flawless, even in spite of other things we learn. The bigger challenge though for me was that few of the other residents within the community feel significant at all with those developed the most seeming the least likely to have committed that crime.
It struck me as I read that this is one of those premises that might actually be better suited to a more visual medium such as a television mini-series. Given additional time and the ability to provide additional space for the development of those secondary characters, I may have found those other possibilities more convincing, resulting in the search for motive and suspects becoming more entertaining.
The book is a little more effective in its presentation of The Circle as a physical, claustrophobic space with one particularly memorable moment coming where the protagonist reflects on how the houses all seem to look in on one another. Here again though I wondered if those ideas could have been taken further visually or if it could have been utilized more in Alice’s own investigation – looking out over the neighborhood to observe others. Instead the idea is introduced but dropped in favor of other, more immediate sources of threat and discomfort.
The other aspect of the book that sometimes frustrated was Alice’s manner of investigation which often feels quite careless and unstructured. That is appropriate given that she has no particular skills or experience in investigation yet it also means that progress is uneven as she upsets and sometimes threatens to alienate the other residents with her manner of questioning. It is this aspect of her character that frustrated me more than her own occasionally dubious decisions as there comes a point where you might wonder why anyone bothers talking to her at all, let alone revealing their secrets.
When the time comes to bring everything together, there is a sense of escalation with some more direct suspense elements introduced. The key reveal is handled quite well though readers may reflect on what happened and those approaching this as a detective story may find that they have additional, unanswered questions in light of some of the information learned. In the moment though it does feel both quite exciting and unsettling and it should satisfy those who are reading this primarily as a thriller.
Some other aspects of the resolution though fall a little flat and I struggled a little to believe that an idea hinted at in the final chapter could be credible given what had previously happened. The reflections on how life changes in The Circle following the events of the novel feel more convincing and provide a neat coda to all that had happened before.
The Verdict: This uneven domestic suspense story is at its most effective exploring how its protagonist begins to feel unsafe in their home but the investigation into a past crime can drag at points.
Interested in purchasing this book to read it yourself? This book is in print and your local bookseller should be able to order a copy for you. The ISBN for the US paperback edition, published by Griffin, is 9781250784056 (9781250274120 for the hardcover). The ISBN for the UK paperback edition, published by HarperCollins, is 9780008412043.
If you prefer to shop online however, you can find a copy of the Griffin paperback and hardcover at Bookshop.org where your purchases can help support independent bookstores. Full disclosure: this is an affiliate link – if you purchase a copy from them, I may receive a small commission.