Cassandra Burton, the narrator of Elizabeth Forbes’ debut, has it all; a loving husband, a lovely home in a small, friendly village, a daughter at University, her own fledgling gardening business. Life is good. She soon finds her rural idyll shattered, however, by the newly arrived and glamorous Ellie, an author renting the house next door in which to supposedly finish her novel. Ellie wastes no time in manoeuvring herself into the heart of village life, and Cassandra soon begins to feel that there is something not quite right about this new member of the community.
Though she shrugs off her first suspicions of the woman, Cassandra’s world is turned upside down with her discovery that Ellie’s novel is a thinly veiled account of her life and that, in the fiction at least, the author has her sights set on Cassandra’s husband, Dan. What’s more it seems Ellie wants Cassandra to know this. Without evidence to back up her suspicions, and her friends and family so taken in by Ellie, Cassandra soon begins to doubt her very sanity. As Ellie’s presence in the village impacts on every aspect of her life, she becomes isolated from her friends, distanced from her daughter, and Dan’s behaviour swings between dismissive of her to borderline abusive.
The tension between what Cassandra believes and what those around her believe drives the novel and for much of the first half the reader is left unsure exactly how reliable a narrator Cassandra actually is. The reasonable explanations of suspicious events Ellie calmly provides in the intercut sections she narrates only serve to further complicate this dynamic as the reader becomes further embroiled in Cassandra’s search for truth. As Cassandra struggles to hold on to what is hers, her husband, her daughter, her friends, her very sanity, the reader can’t help but be swept along with her.
A distinctly dark heart beats at the centre of this story and it is when this darkness rises to the surface that it grabs the reader firmly the reader by the throat. As with any story of this type, it lives and dies by its plot and the twists and turns provided do not disappoint. Also, the author is not afraid to poke fun at her genre and herself in deliciously meta-fictional manner; Cassandra’s description of the plot of Ellie’s novel to her husband and his dismissal of it as far fetched is a key moment which spices up proceedings and elevates the narrative above more pedestrian examples of the genre. Nearest Thing To Crazy is an energetic page turner which grips the reader early on and refuses to let go.