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The Body Lies


The Body Lies

Near the beginning of Jo Baker’s THE BODY LIES, its unnamed narrator recounts a horrifying experience that will resonate with (too) many female readers in particular: being sexually assaulted by a stranger, a seemingly innocuous jogger who turns around (literally) and becomes violent and threatening, enraged and empowered simply by virtue of the narrator’s gender.

Ever since that confrontation, which happened while the narrator was pregnant with her only son, she has felt unsafe walking down the streets of her London neighborhood. Her husband Mark, a teacher, has become increasingly frustrated by her inability to put the incident behind her after months, and then years, pass. So when the narrator --- who also happens to have written a critically acclaimed novel at a relatively young age --- secures a faculty position teaching creative writing to graduate students at a university in the north of England, she decides to accept this offer for a new start, even if it means that she and her young son, Sammy, will be away from Mark for weeks at a time, as he finishes out the school year in London.

"What Jo Baker does in THE BODY LIES is truly masterful.... The book’s also well-thought-out and helps enrich what already would have been an exciting psychological thriller."

The professor is impressed by the talent and hard work of her master’s students, who range from one writer composing experimental short fiction to an American woman penning a werewolf novel to a man writing a thriller about violence toward young, beautiful women. But the narrator feels both drawn to and repelled by a young writer named Nicholas Palmer. He claims that his visceral narratives, with striking, artfully described scenes of drug use, violence and betrayal, are nothing more or less than the truth. And although his writing is undoubtedly skillful, it is also unsettling.

As the narrator settles into her new life, she is burdened by the demands of being, for all intents and purposes, a single mother, as well as being asked to take on increasing departmental responsibilities, largely to pick up the slack for her male colleagues. So when Nicholas seems to take an interest in her personally, is it any wonder that she is, on one level, flattered by his attention? Little does she realize, though, that by engaging with him outside the classroom, she may be setting in motion a series of events that may jeopardize not only her academic career but perhaps her very life.

What Jo Baker does in THE BODY LIES is truly masterful. For at least the first two-thirds of the novel, she manages to cast doubt on the narrator’s credibility, thereby encouraging the reader to participate in exactly the kind of dynamic that the narrator herself encounters, in which she, simply by virtue of being a women, is doubted, discounted and second-guessed at every turn. The book’s form --- which incorporates students’ writing, as well as academic documentation, along with the narrator’s first-person account --- is also well-thought-out and helps enrich what already would have been an exciting psychological thriller.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on June 28, 2019

The Body Lies
by Jo Baker