Book review: The Safest Place by Suzanne Bugler

Jane Berry once considered her two-up two-down London terraced home to be the height of sophistication... but 15 years of cramped living and two children later, she is ready to escape to the country.

What she doesn’t anticipate is the myth of the rural idyll, the tough compromises that will take her family to the limits and the bitter reality that sometimes long-cherished dreams can turn into nightmares.

Author of This Perfect World and The Child Inside, two hard-hitting, contemporary novels, Bugler has found fertile ground in the dark corners of 21st century domestic life.

Her edgy, compelling and convincingly real stories go straight to the heart of family matters. These are not happy-ever-after tales that burn briefly and then fade; instead, they take readers into unforgettable and unsettling territory where menace lurks and families can, and do, fall apart.

Jane Berry has always dreamed of moving to the country, a place of wide open spaces where her children, 13-year-old Sam and nine-year-old Ella, can develop and grow away from the constraints of big city life.

Husband David will be able to escape the stresses of work, shy Sam will be free of the school bullies who make his life a misery, weekends will be like holidays and their time together will be very precious.

And that’s just how it is for them – at first.

The problems – and there turn out to be many – soon start to arise. David’s two-plus hours commute is a nightmare in the winter months, Ella misses her friends, Sam encounters the same bullying he endured at his London comprehensive and Jane feels horribly alone when the house is empty.

With Jane increasingly in denial about the crisis facing her family, she leaps at the chance to make friends with the abrasive Melanie Wilkins, mother of class bully Max and a woman who lives for her children ‘with a fierce, almost animal aggression.’

It’s a friendship that will send Jane’s life spiralling out of control and have terrible consequences for her family...

The Safest Place is a gripping, tense and thought-provoking story, not least because of Bugler’s sharp, gritty and painfully honest writing. Her characters are recognisably human and their dilemmas the sort that we can all recognise.

A book to enthral... and an author to watch.

(Pan, paperback, £7.99)