The premise is simple: how well do you know your neighbours? How well do you know the people living on the other side of a wall? Living so close to people, but knowing so little about them has a touch of the uncanny. That our homes – our safe spaces – could be so quickly and quietly infiltrated by people we share brief smiles with, comment on the weather and move on with our days.
Caroline Corcoran’s Through The Wall explores this creepy concept. But don’t mistake this novel for your average thriller.
A sharp take on social issues
Through The Wall is an observation on the issues that many women face today: the manipulation of our lives on social media and the result it has on self-worth. The epidemic of loneliness and not fitting in. The idea that women need to compete with other women for male attention. The paradox between craving motherhood but not losing yourself as a woman. The effect of extreme stress on your mental health. The erosion of communities through gentrification. And the destructive nature of emotional abuse and the way it ripples through your life.
For these reasons, I don’t think I’d call Through The Wall a typical thriller. Yes, there is (a lot of) tension and a confrontation waiting to happen. But to pigeonhole it like that would dismiss many of the social observations it makes. For me, it’s dark women’s fiction that revolves around contemporary issues, showing their damaging effects on Lexie and Harriet.
Living through pain
There are two huge trigger warnings for this book: infertility and miscarriage, and gaslighting and emotional abuse. However, Corcoran describes these issues with a startling level of insight and sensitivity.
From the physical and emotional toll infertility takes on the characters to the strains it puts on relationships, it’s a relentlessly heartbreaking journey. I emerged from this book with a huge sense of respect for any woman or couple embarking on fertility treatments: not just for the emotional agony, but for the physical side too. The raw desperation, the isolation and the bleakness of a pregnancy test are vivid on these pages.
The other half of Through The Wall follows the shattered remains of an abusive relationship, with a desolate portrayal of how emotional abuse obliterates your life and your mental health. For me, this is the most tragic storyline. We see a woman in the grip of a controlling, manipulative man, unable to free herself from his web of lies and deceit. When society thinks of domestic abuse, it’s often still the physical side that springs to mind. But the insidious nature of emotional abuse and coercive behaviour is just as big a problem – and one that is slowly gaining more recognition.
From March 2017 to March 2018, it’s estimated around 2 million adults experienced domestic abuse in the UK. In the same period, there’s been a 23% increase in domestic abuse-related crimes recorded to the police. Of these, over 9,000 were due to coercive control. This has risen in the last year, possibly due to the ongoing efforts to raise awareness of this behaviour.
Strong, knowable women
Lexie and Harriet are painfully relatable, sometimes irritating and often heartbreaking. Lexie’s insights on her relationship are sharp and observant, especially when infertility takes its toll. Harriet’s broken mind is heart-wrenching, and I found it hard to see her as a ‘villain’. Instead, I saw a woman all but obliterated by an abusive man. I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts on the two women, especially how Harriet comes across. I really related to Lexie’s constant guilt between wanting to be a mother and feeling empty without this purpose, vs trying to be a ‘good feminist’ and recognising that women aren’t defined by their reproductive abilities. I think Harriet deserves a book of her own too. Her story – her background, her future – is fascinating, and I’d like to see where she goes next, and if she ever comes to terms with what happened to her.
A masterclass in writing dialogue
Corcoran’s relaxed writing style makes Through The Wall an easy, quick read. She’s a master of dialogue – both monologues and conversations – which is always refreshing to read. It’s this realism that makes the characters well-rounded and relatable. Both the conversations and Lexie and Harriet’s thoughts read as if Corcoran has simply overheard this drama going on and dictated it straight onto the page. Good, real dialogue is rare to come across, so this is a HUGE tick in my box.
Dual perspectives can either work really well or really badly. There’s little in-between for this narrative style. And in Through The Wall, it’s done excellently. Both Lexie and Harriet have distinct voices and styles, and the duality of the story will set your teeth on edge, especially when Corcoran starts playing the same scenes out but from different angles.
Tension: a double-edged sword
Corcoran’s ability to create and build up tension is a double-edged sword. I defy you to read this book in more than a handful of sittings: you’ll want to chase the plot through its various twists and turns to reach the finish. However, that’s where I felt let down. The suffocating volume of tension needed an explosive ending, and Through The Wall didn’t deliver there. The ending was good and satisfying enough (with a fairly WTF cliffhanger) – but it didn’t quite meet the expectations set by the build-up. Regardless of the disconnect between climax and tension, I loved that a man didn’t save the day. In a book with two strong women leads, if a man had galloped in on a white charger, I would’ve been pretty pissed!
This is an easy book to read. It’s the kind of book you sink into and let you swallow you up. It’s unputdownable and relatable, and is a book of sheer reading enjoyment. It brings tough contemporary problems to light, but it doesn’t analyse them in ways that make your brain hurt. It makes you question your habits and preconceptions, but it doesn’t make you feel like abandoning modern life and running away to live in a monastery. Through The Wall is an immensely readable dark fiction novel that shines a light on a myriad of social issues.
For fans of…
If you like novels that examine and analyse contemporary topics, characters that are flawed, and suspense levels that’ll send your blood pressure through the roof, you’ll likely enjoy Through The Wall. It reminded me of a cross between The Girl on the Train and Social Creature, but also of conversations I have with my friends, and the worries that go through my mind late at night.