There seems to be an older and more primal antecedent in Whitehouse’s compelling psycho-thriller, a sort of companion piece to her hugely successful novel
Before We Met. Marianne Glass, the well-known artist who falls from the roof of her home on Fyfield Road, Oxford, is like a modern-day Red Riding Hood, a beautiful, tortured young girl who reportedly ran off the path into the woods only to be horribly snatched away by the big bad wolf of death.
Writing from the perspective of one who understands her friend’s deepest, darkest secrets, Whitehouse imbues her first-person narrator, Rowan Winter, with a keen sense of angst and paranoia, attributes that hold her in good stead as she tries to discover whether Marianne did commit suicide as the police investigation suggests, or whether she was in fact murdered.
The girls had lost touch with each other even though Marianne always considered Rowen such an important part of her life. While the sadness over Marianne’s death has almost become a “physical muscular thing,” the irony is that Marianne’s funeral is Rowen’s first contact with the Glass family
in nearly ten years.
Taking up Jacqueline Glass’s offer to house-sit the family home on Fyfield Road, Rowen becomes haunted by the last moments of Marianne’s death. The story just doesn’t make sense: Marianne couldn’t have slipped--she had paralyzing vertigo. She never went near the edge of the roof, especially on such a snowy, dark cold winter night. Rowen has a momentary flash of the floor giving way, then the horrifying image of Marianne’s body in freefall: “she came off the roof into the garden; her fingers were frozen.” As Marianne’s mother, Jacqueline, sobs and sobs, there’s a feeling of inexplicability and hopelessness. According to Jacqueline, her daughter’s career appeared to be going well. She even had a show coming up in May, her first solo exhibition.
Like a delicate silken thread, Rowen unfurls how she gradually insinuated herself into the Glass family. At first we don’t quite know why Rowen deliberately turned her back on her own family, only that her deliberate calculations into Marianne’s daily, frazzled existence were accented by Marianne’s father, Seb, a demanding, carelessly possessive philanderer who “just couldn’t help himself.” Marianne’s untimely death has woken Rowen’s
old memories. She feels like she’s fallen back through time to when she was younger and
in the middle of all of the “other stuff:” Jacqueline and Seb’s difficult marriage; her fledging attraction to Marianne’s brother, Adam; the Glass’s literary notoriety.
All the books, fame, and money are just a cover for Marianne’s obsession with dying and her talk of “crossing the line,” of doing something that can “never be undone.” Back in the thickening silence of Fyfield
Road, Rowen’s hurried rush of desire for Adam takes her by surprise, causing her
to need to regroup.
From the sinister face washed in the cold January light that spills from Marianne’s studio, Rowen thinks of that afternoon when Marianne’s drew a charcoal portrait of her, nineteen and naked. The drawing only increases the significance of Marianne’s pleading letter, postmarked five days ago: “I need to talk to you.” The letter revives Rowen’s deepest fears: the secret that has been there all the time, lying dormant and deadened by years of bitterness, waiting for the moment when it would “stretch and break out into the light.” With each year
that has gone by, Rowen has imagined the secret sinking deeper and deeper, perhaps finally
to be buried forever.
With every hour that passes, Rowen is more certain that Marianne’s death was connected to the people who loved her: Jacqueline, Adam, and James Greenwood, her current boyfriend and agent who was making a small fortune from her work. In a fit of desperation, Rowen tries to seek out Byony, Greenwood’s teenage daughter. She’s also drawn to American artist Michael Cory, whose paintings of body image and the struggle of women in a sexist world are reinforced by Marianne’s yet-to-be-seen collection of anorexic paintings. Rowen wonders how well Michael Cory actually knew Marianne as her mind whirls with the conviction that Cory was somehow involved. Perhaps Marianne had been frightened of Cory and needed Rowen’s help.
In the end, Whitehouse works her magic in a surprise twist that I didn’t see coming. Time
ebbs and flows like water, the dark circle of fate eating at Marianne’s words while Rowen herself descends deeper and deeper into a flurry of despair. Brilliantly conceived, Keep You Close culminates in a final guilty confrontation
as the warped nature of Rowen’s stilted deceptions are finally placed on full display.