Review: Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott - The science behind survival of the fittest

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott
Released: 31st July 2018
Published by: Picador
Genre: Adult thriller
Source: Publisher
Pages: 339
My Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Kit Owens harbored only modest ambitions for herself when the mysterious Diane Fleming appeared in her high school chemistry class. But Diane's academic brilliance lit a fire in Kit, and the two developed an unlikely friendship. Until Diane shared a secret that changed everything between them.

More than a decade later, Kit thinks she's put Diane behind her forever and she's begun to fulfill the scientific dreams Diane awakened in her. But the past comes roaring back when she discovers that Diane is her competition for a position both women covet, taking part in groundbreaking new research led by their idol.

Soon enough, the two former friends find themselves locked in a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse that threatens to destroy them both.
Thank you to Pan Macmillan Australia for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

Megan Abbott's latest psychological thriller firmly cements her position as a master of writing dark, addictive stories about the boundaries of friendships and what it takes to succeed. From Dare Me, The Fever, The End of Everything and You Will Know Me, I became enthralled by her intelligent, whip-smart prose and ability to capture the malignant undercurrents behind even the closest relationships. In Give Me Your Hand she has once again lifted the bar, this time bringing the drama into the scientific world, among the labs, burners and microscopes which hone in on what remains unseen with the naked eye. 

Sometimes it feels like life's about understanding how much opposites meet. Kill to cure, poison to immunize, sacrifice to save. 

Competition can be both a propellant to greatness, or lead to an all-consuming quest to be nothing but the best. It's always fascinating to see how Abbott brings in these elements of human nature, and pushes her characters to their limits. Kit and Diana had been best friends for years, driving each other in high school to always be at the top of their game, and reach the heights of the careers they had dreamed of. But Diana had always been an enigma at heart, the type of person one could admire until they saw that there was something ominous behind her pragmatic facade. There is some primal instinct that linked the main characters and their work, a force that was both brilliant and dangerous. As the novel switches between then and now, the contest to be on the research team reached unexpected twists that went further than I could have anticipated. I was totally gripped by the secrets revealed about not just these two, but everyone else working in lab G-21. In a Megan Abbott novel the suspense is always cleverly framed by the characters' vices and deepest flaws, revealed in elegant prose that pulses with tension and leaves you wanting more. 

When you're in the sciences, when you know about things like neuronal biochemistry and the complex interplay between, say, hormones and emotion, you might imagine you have a deep understanding of the mind. Explain to me why I feel this way, think this way, dream this way, am this way. But consider it: Would you really want to know? 

A good piece of writing can also require some solid research to back it up, and it's clear that Abbott has done the groundwork in this case. I may not know much about the sciences or PMDD, though I may have learnt a thing or two after reading this. The sterile setting of a science lab contrasting with the messy web of secrets, back-stabbing and cover-ups made for a winning combination. Far from the sports field, small-town gossip or world of elite gymnastics of her previous books, Give Me Your Hand feels more mature in this professional workplace context. Notably, she never loses sight of the people that these women were before they reached the pinnacle of their careers and how the experiences in their teens shaped who they would become. It is this depth of character development which is always a stand-out, and part of what makes Give Me Your Hand so compulsively readable.

But to understand, you need to see so much more. Because everything affects everything else. One small speck in one narrow recess and everything else is dark with its shadow. And working with Dr Severin, I know I'll see it all. And I'll be a part of the grander seeing, the illumination of darkness. The hand outstretched to all those women in the shadows. Come with me, come, come. 


Give Me Your Hand is not a psychological thriller for the faint-hearted, but it's the most addictive one I've read in a long time. Smart, dark, and subtle in its revelations of the truth, as always I can't wait to see what Megan Abbott will write next.

Review: Joe Cinque's Consolation by Helen Garner - A True Story of Death, Grief and the Law

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Joe Cinque's Consolation by Helen Garner
Released: 1st August 2004
Published by: Macmillan
Genre: True Crime
Source: Library
Pages: 328
My Rating: 5 of 5 stars
In October 1997 a clever young law student at ANU made a bizarre plan to murder her devoted boyfriend after a dinner party at their house. Some of the dinner guests-most of them university students-had heard rumours of the plan. Nobody warned Joe Cinque. He died one Sunday, in his own bed, of a massive dose of rohypnol and heroin.

His girlfriend and her best friend were charged with murder. Helen Garner followed the trials in the ACT Supreme Court. Compassionate but unflinching, this is a book about how and why Joe Cinque died.

It probes the gap between ethics and the law; examines the helplessness of the courts in the face of what we think of as 'evil'; and explores conscience, culpability, and the battered ideal of duty of care. It is a masterwork from one of Australia's greatest writers.
Why wasn’t she down on her knees, grovelling for forgiveness? From the Cinques? From the whole human race? Begging for pardon, and with no sense that she was entitled to it, no expectation of ever receiving it? 

True crime isn't a genre I'd usually choose to read from, but when the opportunity arose to read this book for university, and knowing Helen Garner was a brilliant writer, my curiosity got the better of me. Joe Cinque's Consolation is by all accounts a harrowing read, and yet Garner has provided an insight into the trials of Anu Singh and Madhavi Rao over his death with a sensitivity that makes you feel all the anguish over what could have been...'if only'. It calls into question the morality of the justice system, the quest to make sense of a series of events which it seems could have been prevented on so many occasions, and the pain inflicted on the parents who will always carry the grief over the child they lost so devastatingly.

The fatigue after a long day in court was also a kind of gratitude, I had been granted the inestimable privilege of looking into other people’s lives. What I had found there had absorbed my intellectual and emotional attention for many hours. Unlike the Cinques, unlike the Singhs, I could walk away. 

One of the things I appreciated most about this work was how balanced Garner was in describing both the technicalities of the arguments brought forward by the Crown and the defence, alongside her own subjective views. Through her writing with observations into the legal processes, psychiatric analyses and gaps between hearings and sentencing, there is also an undercurrent of disillusionment and shock as to how the final verdict came to be. Even Justice Crispin's Freudian slip when he first mistakenly stated 'murder' instead of 'manslaughter' arguably indicates a sense of innate injustice. I too felt Garner's utter disbelief, though she also recognised that every element of the judgement was grounded in reason. But how does intellectual reasoning stand against the wrongful taking of a life? This is the anguish that plagues those left behind, and arguably is where the gaping chasm lies between morality and the law. 

She unfolded a tissue and held it to her mouth. She struggled to compose herself. I wanted to cry out with horror, and pity.

It's interesting how the law attempts to categorise social wrongs within neat parameters, with thresholds and rules that dictate the punishment to fit the crime. As Joe Cinque's Consolation proves however, the end result can appear manifestly inadequate. I suppose it's an ethical issue at heart, and one which the judges in positions of power do not take lightly. 'Duty of care' and 'diminished responsibility' are more than just pieces legalistic jargon; here their human impact is felt with full force. Helen Garner's journalistic merit cannot be underestimated on this point, as she looked at the effects of the trials on both the Cinque and Singh families, though she formed a closer relationship with the former. Of course, the most important voice in all of this always remains silent; that of the victim. But through Garner's recounts into the time spent with his family, we have a glimpse into the man Joe Cinque was and the profound suffering that his loved ones have endured. 

If memory is not to be trusted, what can courts rely on? How can they establish what ‘really happened’? How can things from the past, even the relatively recent past, be proved?


Joe Cinque's Consolation may be the first of Helen Garner's works I've read, but it certainly won't be the last. This book raises an array of important issues surrounding justice, the bounds of 'simple wickedness' and the continual struggle to vanquish an unfathomable tragedy. The message that came through which gives the most cause for reflection is that what is ‘just’ and what seems ‘fair’ are often two very different things.