'A devastatingly good book… if this doesn’t leave you shuddering nothing will. Brilliantly well done.’NetGalley Reviewer, 5 stars
‘Never saw that twist coming.’Goodreads Reviewer
‘Usually I can see twists coming… But this book. Oh man. I had no idea this was going to happen, I did not see it coming.’Goodreads Reviewer
‘Am still in shock after reading this… brilliant… a must read.’Goodreads Reviewer, 5 stars
It happens to every mother.
One day, the daughter whose whole world you once were, becomes someone you barely know. And you don’t know the secrets she’s hiding.
One night, 15-year-old Olivia comes home late from a party she was strictly forbidden from going to, and she and her mother, Hannah, start arguing.
Soon Olivia speaks the words that every parent has heard from their teenage child: ‘I hate you. You’ve ruined my life. And I’m never speaking to you again.’
Olivia has never been an easy child, a sharp contrast to her easy-going, happy-go-lucky little sister.
But Hannah thinks Olivia’s outburst is the end of a normal family argument.
In fact, it’s only the beginning of a nightmare.
After one day of silence, Hannah thinks Olivia is taking a teenage sulk too far.
After two days, she starts to feel anxious that something more serious could be going on.
After a week, when her daughter still hasn’t spoken, Hannah knows that Olivia is hiding a bigger darkness – something that could threaten to tear their precious family apart…
The Argument is an unputdownable psychological thriller that asks how far we can push our families before they finally break.
Perfect for fans of Gillian Flynn, The Woman in the Window, and The Silent Patient.
Release date: December 10, 2019
Print pages: 232
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Rosie is asleep upstairs, tucked up safely in her bed. She is a good girl, she always has been; quiet, content, gentle. Not like her sister. Olivia is everything her younger sibling isn’t, wayward and unruly, forever wanting more, always questioning everything. Even in a few years from now, when Rosie will be fifteen – an age Hannah appreciates many parents find challenging – she can’t imagine her acting as Olivia does, leaving her here in ignorance, wondering where she is and who she is with, worrying whether she’s okay.
For what must be the fifth time now, Hannah tries her daughter’s number. This time, it goes straight to answerphone.
‘Olivia, it’s Mum. It’s late now … I’m getting worried. Call me back, please.’
Despite having been told over a week ago that she couldn’t go to the party, Olivia has snuck from the house like a thief and gone anyway. She mentioned it while they were all eating dinner together – a passing comment that neither Hannah nor Michael paid much attention to at the time. Hannah didn’t think of it again after that, assuming it had been forgotten about. Michael isn’t home tonight, and Hannah doesn’t drive, and she realises her error in not asking Olivia where this party would be, but she didn’t think it necessary when they had made their feelings on the subject so clear. Even if she had access to a car, she has no idea where she might start looking for her daughter. Olivia was told no. Hannah had thought that would be enough.
Is this where it starts? she wonders. She has heard other parents’ lamentations; she knows that at a certain age, a certain phase, all teenagers find their feet and start to break away, sometimes gradually, sometimes with one sharp and sudden heave that rips them from their mother and father in a separation that may remain permanent.
It is happening already, Hannah knows that, and yet she has been lying to herself, denying what has been right in front of her all this time. From now on, will she watch her daughter slip away from her, bit by bit no longer her little girl?
She goes into the kitchen and gets herself a glass of water, desperate to rid herself of the headache that pinches at her temples and threatens to swell into a migraine. She wonders if it is normal to feel this old at thirty-four, or if it is simply the effect of having had children young. She knows she looks older than she is; she always has done. When she met Michael, she was seventeen, but he thought she was in her twenties. It was something she was always quietly smug about back then, this looking older than she was, but now that time is really upon her and has started to move quicker in recent years, she wishes the reverse were true. How nice it would be to stop time, she thinks; not just for herself, but for her daughters too. Given the chance, she would have paused it a few years back, before Olivia became the way she is now.
The clock fixed to the wall above the microwave tells her it is already gone 10.45. Refilling her glass with water, she takes it into the living room and returns her attention to the iPad she has borrowed from Michael’s office along the hallway. She knows the names of some of the girls in Olivia’s school year, though she has never known her daughter to bother much with any of them. Olivia is a loner; she always has been. Hannah has no idea whose party it is; Olivia may have mentioned the details when she brought the subject up last week, but Hannah doesn’t remember what was said. Despite everything, she believed her little girl was still in there somewhere, caught amid the attitude and the defiance, and she naïvely thought she would never defy her wishes in this way.
She types the name of one of Olivia’s classmates into Google and waits for the results to load. She finds the girl on the second page, an Instagram account that is open for browsing to anyone who might chance upon it. Hannah isn’t particularly good with social media; it has never been something that interests her. Facebook was still in its infancy when Olivia was born, and although by the time Hannah gave birth to Rosie everyone seemed to be using it, she was up to her eyes in newborn paraphernalia and the debris that came with an active five-year-old, and the last thing she had time for was taking a peep at other people’s lives.
Her eyes widen at the sight that is Casey Cartwright’s Instagram profile picture. Hannah doesn’t understand what Instagram is, how it works or what the point of it is, but from what she sees here, it appears to offer a platform for its users to flaunt anything that involves excess. It amazes her that the girl’s parents let her parade herself on the internet as she does. This photograph, available for anyone to see, shows Casey posing on a dance floor, her rear end jutting to the camera in a dress so tight it appears to have been painted on. Her head is turned to the person taking the photograph, her mouth parted in a consciously provocative and simultaneously gormless gape. She is just fifteen or sixteen years old, and everyone knows that these social media sites are dangerous places. It is easy for a person to pretend to be someone they’re not. The girl is leaving herself open to all kinds of trouble, and no one seems to be there for her to stop it from happening.
Though she knows her own daughter isn’t on Instagram, Hannah types in Olivia’s name, just to be sure. It wouldn’t surprise her to find that she has opened an account somehow, if only to get at her parents in some way, but she is grateful when she doesn’t find her daughter among the list of other females of the same name. Olivia is showing an ounce of common sense where this is concerned, at least.
At her side, her mobile phone bleeps. It is a message from Michael.
Sorry I haven’t called. Long day. Off to bed now – early start. Everything okay back home? X
Michael rarely calls when he’s away with work; Hannah doesn’t expect him to be constantly in touch, not when his workload is so demanding and the trips so stressful for him. Two years ago, he was promoted to senior director with the supermarket chain he has worked for since she met him, and the role has involved extensive travel within the UK. The meetings he attends sound long and tedious, and in the moments when he is in between work, she doesn’t blame him for taking some time out for himself. She knows she would do the same if she was ever given the chance.
She looks at the message. She knows she should tell Michael what has happened – that Olivia has gone to that party – but it would only worry him. He is in Southampton, hours away from their home in Penarth, in South Wales, too far to be able to do anything useful to help the situation, so what would be the point in spoiling his evening by causing him unnecessary concern? Instead, she sends him a reply that suggests everything is as normal.
All fine here. Hope you get a good night’s sleep. See you tomorrow. X
When the message is sent, she tries Olivia’s mobile phone again.
‘Olivia, this isn’t funny. You’ve made your point. You need to come home now.’
She turns on the television and stares blankly at the muted screen for a while but is unable to keep herself distracted from the collision of thoughts that has exploded in her brain. What if something happens and she can’t get hold of Olivia? What if her daughter is alone and hurt somewhere, and no one knows that something has happened to her?
Stop it, Hannah. She is allowing herself to overthink, letting her brain imagine the worst when she knows that the most likely end to her worry will be the sight of Olivia nonchalantly approaching the house as though this is just any other evening. She will know that she has done wrong, but she’ll do everything she can to present a couldn’t-care-less attitude designed to irritate Hannah further.
It is while she is considering this scenario that exactly this happens. At 11.20, the outside sensor lamp at the front door clicks on, illuminating the driveway in a puddle of soft white light. Olivia emerges from the stone pathway like a ghost, her footsteps crunching across the chippings. Her hair is pulled back messily, piled up on her head, and her face looks paler than usual. Hannah can’t deny how slight how daughter looks, caught like this in the muted lighting. In recent months she has begun to fade away, refusing food and becoming a shadow of her former self. Hannah worries, though she suspects that it is yet another way in which Olivia is seeking rebellion.
She waits to hear the tap-tap-tap of her daughter’s knuckles on the front door before letting her into the house. Olivia steps past her wordlessly, stumbling to one side, and stoops to take off her shoes. She finds it hard to balance, and when her shoes are off and she is upright again, she refuses to make eye contact.
‘Where have you been?’ Hannah doesn’t know why she asks this when she already knows the answer. She realises now that the previous week’s ‘Can I go to the party?’ meant ‘I am going to the party.’
Rather than reply with the obvious, Olivia offers her a shrug, and even that is given grudgingly. She is wearing make-up that has smudged beneath her eyes, casting dark shadows, and it makes her look older than she is, world-weary in a way that suggests it is possible to be defeated at just fifteen.
‘I came back, didn’t I?’
Her words are slurred, and when she moves to head towards the stairs, Hannah stops her, reaching for her arm. ‘In there,’ she says, gesturing to the living room.
Olivia sighs loudly, the exhalation enough for her mother to catch the sickly scent of alcohol that lingers on her breath. Has she really been drinking? It seems obvious that she might have been when no doubt everyone else at the party is likely to have done the same. Hannah feels her frustration grow.
She closes the living room door behind them, not wanting to disturb Rosie. ‘What’s going on?’
Olivia folds her arms across her chest and turns her head to the darkened television, as though staring at a blank screen is preferable to engaging in an exchange with her mother. The framed photograph on the mantelpiece catches Hannah’s eye. It is a picture of the girls, Olivia aged eight and Rosie then just three years old. Olivia is wearing school uniform: green cardigan top-buttoned over a grey pinafore dress; beside her, Rosie wears a grey dress of her own, though she has not yet graduated from nursery and is too young to be wearing the same uniform as her sister. Even before she could speak, Rosie expressed a desire to be just like Olivia, following her around the house and mimicking her gestures. She would pull at her red curls, trying to straighten them out so that her hair would look just like Olivia’s. By the age of five, though, everything had changed, and Rosie had abandoned her adoration of her sister. Perhaps even then she was able to see what was becoming of Olivia.
‘You went to that party,’ Hannah says, a statement rather than a question.
Olivia shrugs again, answering her with silence.
‘We told you not to go.’
‘It was no big deal,’ she says, looking at the floor. ‘It was a house party, that’s all.’
‘I don’t care what or where it was. The fact is, we told you that you couldn’t go, and you went anyway.’
‘Why does it matter so much?’ The words are spat in temper, and Olivia studies her mother with contempt, holding her eye with an unspoken challenge.
‘If you have to ask,’ Hannah tells her calmly, ‘then you already know.’
Olivia rolls her eyes. Hannah hates it when she does that. It represents everything she never wanted her daughter to become, petulant and disrespectful, and though she feels sure that many well-intentioned people might try to reassure her that Olivia’s attitude comes with being a teenager, she doesn’t know how long it is going to be reasonable to use her age as an excuse for her behaviour.
‘Why was it so important to you to go?’ Hannah asks.
‘Everyone else was going.’
It is Hannah’s turn to roll her eyes as she despairs at her daughter’s childish argument. Olivia notices the look and huffs loudly, clamping her teeth on to her bottom lip as though forcing back something she wants to say.
‘And if everyone else does drugs,’ Hannah says, ‘is that also something you want to try? Or what about getting pregnant? Sound appealing if everyone else is doing it?’
The exasperation that floods her daughter’s features is tangible. Hannah knows what it is that Olivia would like to say, but she knows that even despite her recent attitude, she wouldn’t be cheeky enough to come out with it. She knows what Olivia thinks of her, that she is over-the-top, controlling, but having tried every other way to make her see sense and failed to get her to so much as acknowledge her attempts, she has little choice other than to deal with her daughter in her own obtuse manner.
‘Maybe it does,’ Olivia says, widening her eyes. She is goading her mother, pressing her until she gets a reaction.
‘Did you enjoy it?’ Hannah asks. Olivia eyes her suspiciously, wondering where the question is headed. Her focus flits from one side of Hannah’s face to the other as she tries to formulate an answer, as though trying to settle on the least incriminating response. It really isn’t a trick question; Hannah is curious to know whether the party lived up to her expectations.
‘It could have gone better.’
‘In what way?’
Olivia pauses. Her mother can read her as though the things she doesn’t want to say are tattooed across her forehead, printed in bold lettering for everyone to see regardless. Something has happened; she has done something, something she doesn’t want Hannah to find out about.
‘I’m just different, aren’t I?’ Olivia says, and Hannah suspects the comment is an evasion of a truth she doesn’t want to admit to. ‘People laugh at me. They laugh at how I dress.’
‘What’s wrong with how you dress?’ Hannah looks Olivia up and down, taking in the jeans and T-shirt, wondering what anyone might find amusing in the very normal clothes her daughter is wearing. The jeans are too big for her, hanging slightly around her hips, but not in any way that might be regarded as unintentional.
Her attention isn’t away from Olivia’s face for long enough to miss the eye-roll she is offered in response to the question.
‘You just don’t get it, do you?’ Olivia snaps, studying her mother as though a second head has sprouted from her shoulders and she is unsure to which of them she should direct her anger. ‘God,’ she continues, ‘you’re not even that old.’
‘Urgh,’ she says, throwing her arms in the air, exasperated by her mother’s refusal to rise to her bad mood, because that is what she is looking for. She seems to enjoy confrontation, actively looking for opportunities to get into an argument with Hannah over something, no matter how trivial the subject. She is the same with her sister at times, moody and cantankerous, trying to wind Rosie up at any available opportunity.
‘Other parents get it. Other girls my age get to wear nice stuff; they get to go to parties.’
Hannah thinks of Casey Cartwright’s profile picture, the image like a still from an X-rated adult film. Is that what her daughter aspires to? Is that what all her parenting has been for, so Olivia can join the herd and follow everybody else in their mundanity?
‘Nice stuff,’ she repeats. ‘Like Casey Cartwright, you mean? Was she at the party tonight?’
Olivia narrows her eyes questioningly, an expression she seems to wear much of the time. ‘What are you bringing her up for? What do you know about Casey Cartwright?’
‘I’ve seen how she dresses, that’s all. Her Instagram profile picture should come with a parental guidance warning.’
Olivia glances at the iPad on the arm of the sofa, her face contorting as though she’s just received life-changing news.
‘You’ve been looking at her Instagram?’ Her voice rises and her cheeks flush pink. ‘Oh my God, you are so embarrassing.’
‘What’s embarrassing about that? She’s not going to know.’
Hannah knows why Olivia is angry with her. She isn’t interested in fashion; she doesn’t wear much make-up; she can’t remember the last time she bought a new pair of shoes. If she were to dress up, though, Olivia would probably be mortified. No matter what she does, she won’t win.
‘Would you have gone tonight if your father was home?’
Olivia says nothing.
‘I’m going to tell him, you know that, don’t you?’
Olivia’s dark eyes narrow again, and her top lip thins. She eyes her mother defiantly. ‘Tell him what you like,’ she says, her words laced with a challenge. ‘I don’t care.’
Hannah raises an eyebrow and puts out a hand. ‘Your phone.’
Olivia scrunches her face as though she has just bitten into something sour. ‘You can’t.’
Hannah raises the eyebrow further; the look alone is enough. Olivia reaches into her pocket to retrieve her mobile phone, before slamming it into her mother’s open palm.
‘I hate you,’ she hisses. ‘You’ve ruined my life.’ She marches to the living room door and yanks it open before turning back, her mouth moving to say something she doesn’t seem capable of articulating, a million and one words that are sitting on her tongue ready to be fired at her mother. Instead, in a voice that is disconcertingly calm, all she says is, ‘I’m never speaking to you again.’
She slams the living room door shut behind her before heading upstairs. Hannah hears her heavy steps tramp across the landing and her bedroom door thud shut. There is no thought for Rosie, who is sleeping in the room next door. There is no thought for anyone but herself. If Hannah could put her behaviour down to just being a teenager, she would, but where Olivia is concerned, she fears there is something more, something they are only now beginning to see the start of.
Her head hurts. She drank nearly three glasses of wine at the party last night, even though she hated the taste of it. She had tasted wine before – she stole some of her parents’ months earlier, sneaking downstairs during the night and trying it through a frustrating combination of curiosity and boredom – but just a couple of sips had been enough to deter her from bothering again. Last night felt different, though. Last night, for the first time ever, she felt as though she might be able to fit in somewhere, if only she was given a chance. People laughed at her, but Olivia is so used to that now that she was almost able to block out the sniggers and the comments whispered behind raised hands, ignoring them with a determination that does not usually come naturally to her. She knows she will have to change to fit in anywhere, but the idea of changing only seems to be a good thing.
She stares through glassy eyes at the Arte. . .
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