The Book of You
THE BOOK OF YOU is a tough book to read. This is NOT because of author Claire Kendal’s narrative style, which takes flows from one paragraph to the next as if she was in the room, taking you by the hand and leading you through it. You’ll finish it in record time and in one sitting, no matter how slowly you might read otherwise. It’s a tough book to read because of what the protagonist, Clarissa, experiences at the hands of a fiend named Rafe over a period of six weeks or so (with some occasional flashbacks) and what she does (and doesn’t do) about it. It’s a story about what happens when civility breaks down on one side while being observed on the other. As we learn in THE BOOK OF YOU (as if we didn’t know it already), civility, when confronted with its opposite, doesn’t work. Fire does.
"Those old enough to remember an age when a father or brother would have dispensed with Rafe by page two will recall those times wistfully. The rest will feel the hairs on the back of their necks standing quietly on end for weeks to come."
Clarissa is not an entirely sympathetic character. She’s made some wrong, even bad choices, though nothing on the order of warranting the attention of Rafe, an academic with the inevitable delusions of grandeur. Rafe walks Clarissa home from a book signing (possibly after slipping her a roofie; we’re pretty sure of this, but never entirely so), and they wind up spending the night together. He won’t leave her alone after that, although he could be a poster boy for the expression “What part of ‘no’ don’t you understand?” Clarissa knows Rafe isn’t right but has no idea how terribly wrong he is.
As Kendal reveals in dribs and drabs how dangerous Rafe actually is, we (along with Clarissa) realize that she is in serious trouble. The author provides a decent reason for Clarissa not to contact the authorities, and also keeps Rafe from being totally unrelenting by putting her on the jury for a long sexual assault trial that, interestingly enough, shares some elements with what she is going through. It also provides her with the opportunity to crush on a fellow juror, a charming fireman who seems to have feelings for her as well, though he keeps them in check, at least for a while. Then, just when things seem to resolve themselves on all fronts, they get worse, but not necessarily in the way you might expect.
I predict THE BOOK OF YOU is going to be huge with books clubs. All of us know people like Clarissa (I can immediately name four myself) and have encountered a Rafe or two as well. Those old enough to remember an age when a father or brother would have dispensed with Rafe by page two will recall those times wistfully. The rest will feel the hairs on the back of their necks standing quietly on end for weeks to come. Don’t miss THE BOOK OF YOU, which is certain to be the book of this summer and many summers to come.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on May 9, 2014