REVIEW: The Confession by Jessie Burton

In brief: Connie and Elise meet in 1980 and Elise immediately falls under her spell. But thirty years later, Elise’s daughter Rose wants to find out what happened to her mother. Does Connie know?

The good: It’s riveting.

The not-so-good: These characters know how to hurt each other.

Why I chose it: Thank you to Pan Macmillan for the ARC.

Year: 2019

Pages: 454

Publisher: Picador (Pan Macmillan)

Setting: London, Los Angeles and New York

Rating: 10 out of 10

The Confession is easily one of the best books I’ve read this year. It combines a fascinating story with memorable characters and a gamut of emotions. It just works on all fronts. The characters are flawed in various ways, they screw up (magnificently at times) but most of all, you as the reader love them no matter what.

The story alternates between two time periods; the 1980s (including all the bad fashion) and the present day. Tying the eras together is writer Constance Holden. In the 1980s, Connie was an author on the rise with a debut novel being turned into a book and a second magnificent book on the way. In the present day, she’s firmly in the minds of feminists and literature students but no one well. Why did she retreat from public life? Rose Simmonds had never even heard of Connie until her father gave her Connie’s novels. It wasn’t that he wanted to expose her to a great author, rather that Rose’s mum Elise and Connie used to be together. But Elise disappeared shortly after Rose’s birth and hasn’t been heard of since. Rose has always felt different, out of sorts even because of her lack of a mother. Now that she has a target, she’s ready to start searching. When Rose arrives at Connie’s house one day, things turn out very differently to what she expected. Now her lies are too deep to escape unscathed…

The strength of the main female characters is phenomenal. Connie is a wonder with her definite ideas, lack of caring what everyone thinks and overall stubbornness. I kind of wished that she was real so I could read her novels for myself. Rose and Elise are strong, but in different ways. Rose is adrift in many ways when she is introduced to the reader. She lacks a career path, a meaningful relationship (her partner has given up a steady job for the dream of a burrito food truck but doesn’t really work on making it a reality) and a sense of self. She’s comfortable but not really happy. Circumstances mean that she appears as someone else to Connie and slowly Rose becomes the more confident, stronger and independent person that she has tried to be around Connie. Elise, like Rose, has that same adrift feeling when she meets Connie. But unlike her daughter, she’s content to let Connie call the shots and wander around in a haze. Only when Elise feels wronged does she have a spark, but her actions have much greater consequences for others without learning from her experiences. To me, Elise seemed like a shadow of Rose, unwilling to grow up, change or take charge. She just goes along with anything – her relationship with Connie and with others just drift without Elise putting any work in.

Normally with dual timelines, I have one favourite but in The Confession I just couldn’t choose. Elise and Connie’s lives in the 1980s spark glamour, a touch of fame and living excessively. There are also some harrowing scenes that will tear your heart apart. Things are generally more measured in Rose’s timeline, with a web of lies and deceit that is a guilty pleasure to enjoy but also has an emotional explosion or two. The Confession is the type of book that should only be put down to sleep (briefly). It’s a wonder of a story.

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