A trigger warning before I launch into this review; for those who have struggled with getting pregnant, give this novel a pass. Magpie by Elizabeth Day is a domestic thriller with a shocking plot twist, but it also offers an incredibly detailed and realistic accounting of infertility, and its affects on a relationship, and the sense of self. Domestic thriller is truly the best way to describe this book; no one dies, but all the trauma and drama happens only within the domestic sphere; conniving mother-in-laws, jealous girlfriends, judgmental friends, it’s all in here!
Marisa and Jake are in a whirlwind romance; they’ve only been together for three months, but have moved into a house together and are trying for a baby. They get pregnant almost immediately, which both are ecstatic about. Unfortunately, at this same time Jake’s income takes a hit so they are forced to bring in a lodger, as Marissa makes very little money publishing customized children’s books. So Kate moves in, and at first she seems very nice and respectful, but then Marissa begins to suspect that Kate has ulterior motives; Kate follows her to yoga class one day, Kate tries to hang out with Jake alone, and she even begins cooking him his favourite meals. So Marissa begins to follow Kate instead, desperate to determine if she’s having an affair with Jake. What Marissa discovers is so much worse…
This is a challenging book to review because the plot twist happens about halfway through the book, and I don’t want to give away any spoilers. As the book began I had convinced myself it was going to turn out a specific way but then I was truly surprised by the plot twist. Without giving away anymore details, I’ll say the book ends in a much different way than it begins, which came as a shock to me, and no doubt many other readers.
Almost every character is suspected of lying, and it’s not just Kate and Marissa who are under suspicion. Jake and his mother Annabelle are both depicted in questionable ways, and since there are only a handful of characters in the entire book, the reader is constantly on edge, never truly comfortable with anyone’s narration or point of view.
There are only two first-person perspectives offered, and the voices themselves are quite similar – both women, both similar in age with similar opinions, both with objects of hatred or annoyance they fixate on. The way women treat each other in this book is always suspect, seemingly competing for the attention of men around them, particularly cruel to one another in their thoughts:
“Annabelle pretends she doesn’t need to hear it, but she lets Jake carry on talking and Kate watches as she grows rosy and contented, fattened like a maggot by all the compliments.”-p.257 of Magpie by Elizabeth Day, ARC Edition
I found that line fairly vicious – comparing another woman to a maggot seems somewhat over the line – but when a book revolves around something as physical as pregnancy, the visceral references and metaphors seem to flow easily.
My only complaint with this novel is that the plot twist felt a bit ‘done’. I was surprised by it, but I’ve also read similar books where the twists were similar. I didn’t guess what the twist was going to be but depending on how many of these kinds of books you read, you may guess the twist before it happens, which would eliminate some of the suspense. The remaining second half of the book is still worthwhile though, so push through, even if you know what’s coming.