Review: ‘The Split’ by Sharon Bolton

No matter how far you run, some secrets will always catch up with you…

The remote Antarctic island of South Georgia is about to send off its last boat of the summer – which signifies safety to resident glaciologist Felicity Lloyd.

Felicity lives in fear – fear that her ex-husband Freddie will find her, even out here. She took a job on this isolated island to hide from him, but now that he’s out of prison, having served a term for murder, she knows he won’t give up until he finds her.

But a doctor delving into the background of Felicity and Freddie’s relationship, back in Cambridge, learns that Felicity has been on the edge for a long time. Heading to South Georgia himself to try and get to her first is the only way he can think of to help her.

From Goodreads

DETAILS

Publisher: Minotaur Books

ISBN: 9781250300058

Date read: 7 July 2020

Review

In the space of six months, Sharon Bolton has become one of the top authors on my “buy without even reading the blurb” list. Her sharp, unconventional thrillers saved me from the darkest part of my post-Ulysses reading slump, when I was seriously doubting whether I’d have the strength to pick up another book ever again.

The Split is an ambitious novel, not unlike a lot of Bolton’s other work. One of the things I enjoy most about her writing is that she never seems content to provide her readers with “just another thriller”. She explores territories and topics atypical to the genre, particularly in her standalone books, leaning into the curious and the unusual rather than shying away from it. Her protagonists are not the seasoned detectives or private investigators one might expect to populate the world of the fictional crime; they are herpetologists, nuns, true-crime authors, and – in this case – glaciologists.

Three characters occupy the central space of The Split, and it is the slow revelation of their interconnected pasts that stirs up the reader’s burgeoning anxiety. As the novel opens, we are thrust into the mind of the already agitated Felicity, who searches the horizon for the last ships of the season approaching the Antarctic island of South Georgia. Her worst fears are realised when she spots Freddie, the man whose arrival she has been dreading, and is forced to execute a dangerous escape plan. The only problem is that Freddie has seen her, too. And he is determined to catch her.

Just as the chase across the frozen, desolate landscape is picking up, Bolton draws us back nine months into the past. After suffering a bout of memory loss, Felicity attends a mandatory psychiatric evaluation with Dr Joe Grant – the only thing standing between her and a highly prestigious research trip to the British Antarctic Survey’s base in South Georgia. But Felicity is reluctant to allow the psychiatrist access to her history, and he is distracted by his own problems, namely a series of murdered homeless people that have been connected to his philanthropic pursuits. What emerges is a twisted, deeply engaging story that will have its readers second-guessing themselves at every turn.

Another classic Sharon Bolton element is the development of the plot at the convergence of real social and environmental issues. Felicity’s work is a subtle opportunity to enthuse the reader about rapidly melting ice caps, while a number of murders set in the recent past emphasise the vulnerability of Cambridge’s homeless population. Bolton approaches both topics with a great degree of tact and sensitivity, weaving them into her plot so that their inclusion doesn’t feel didactic or unnatural.

I’d be tempted to classify The Split as a psychological thriller, given that a large majority of the plot delves into issues of memory, mental illness, and trauma. But the scope of Bolton’s work extends beyond that: her narrative plays with elements of detective fiction and Nordic thrillers as well, spinning a dark tale brimming with tension. Though character driven, The Split has no shortage of nail-biting action to keep its reader dizzy with adrenaline from start to finish.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Recommended to: Anyone in need of a thorough distraction

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