Fear and loving in Camden
Jane Clinton talks to writer Joanna Briscoe about her chilling new novel, The Seduction
09 July, 2020 — By Jane Clinton
Joanna Briscoe, author of The Seduction
IMAGINE if the very person who you turn to for help, who you place your trust in, turns out to pose the greatest threat to your wellbeing.
This is the premise of novelist Joanna Briscoe’s latest novel, The Seduction.
In it we meet Beth, who shares a home in Camden with her partner Sol and their daughter Fern.
On the surface, life is pretty idyllic. But it soon emerges that Beth is troubled. She is haunted by the mother who left when she was a child and worried that Fern is keeping secrets from her. And so she begins to see a therapist, Dr Tamara Bywater.
Little does Beth realise, however, that this is when her problems will really begin.
Initially, she dismisses the feelings she experiences in the sessions with Dr Bywater as what she learns is called transference. But it is more complex than this.
The Seduction is a tense and chilling novel with a slow drip, drip realisation that the very person who is meant to be helping Beth could undo her.
Joanna, who has lived in Dartmouth Park for the past 18 years, has now written six novels including the bestselling Sleep with Me, which was made into a film for ITV. In this latter novel, a couple’s tranquility is disrupted by a seemingly unassuming French woman, Sylvie Lavigne.
Sylvie and Dr Tamara Bywater are intoxicating, mysterious characters who you cannot but be drawn to; that is, until their real, terrifying motivations become clear.
There is a pattern perhaps in Joanna’s novels of such women who threaten the status quo?
“I know and I am a card-carrying feminist!” she says. “You never notice your own psyche emerging in your work until several novels down and this is my sixth and I’m really seeing it now.”
That the threat should come from a therapist with narcissistic personality disorder could have been contentious.
“I have always made it very clear in interviews and pieces I have written about the novel that this is a highly unusual thing to happen.
“The vast majority of therapists are safe and responsible. This is a story; it is not the norm. The psychologist in the novel is a very, very troubled woman and she is enacting something for herself.”
Joanna is familiar with narcissistic personalities and separately she has written about how in the past she was often “reeled in” by such people.
Was it cathartic to put all those experiences into the novel?
“Yes and no,” she says. “I did want to explore the real-life elements of narcissism and being attracted to narcissists, but once you start working on something that has the structure of a novel you immediately need to transcend the real life.”
In The Seduction, Camden looms large. Beth, Sol and Fern live near the canal in Camden Lock.
“I was walking along the canal and it hit me that this is where they lived,” she says. “It was this scrap of land that is somehow not as developed.
“The location was incredibly important to this novel – more than most – in that I couldn’t quite get Beth and her life until I took that walk along the Regent’s Canal.”
The novel was finished before lockdown and since then Joanna has been publicising it and writing her next book. But ask her if she has tackled any big tomes during this period and she raises her eyebrows.
Instead she has been happily binge-watching the likes of Netflix series, Succession and Call My Agent and lots of films.
She says lockdown has changed things but stresses that she is “incredibly privileged”.
“I cannot emphasise enough that I am very, very lucky, but lockdown has been life-changing for me.
“I’m feeling a kind of slower, more grounded pace, but I am extremely privileged: no young children to school, I have a garden and I haven’t had any awful things happen to me.
“A lot of people said that during lockdown there are such huge important things going on in the world it just makes what they’re writing seem trivial.
“I understand that but I kind of think well, we don’t just want to read about pandemics. In fact, it’s the very opposite of what I want to read about.”
- The Seduction. By Joanna Briscoe, Bloomsbury, £16.99 (eBook £14.26)