My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Big Little Lies meets Lord of The Flies in this electrifyingly twisty follow-up to Jane Shemilt’s breakout debut The Daughter.
Over the course of a long, hot summer in London, the lives of three very different married couples collide when their children join the same tutoring circle, resulting in illicit relationships, shocking violence, and unimaginable fallout.
There’s Eve, a bougie earth mother with a well-stocked trust fund; she has three little ones, a blue-collar husband and is obsessed with her Instagrammable recipes and lifestyle. And Melissa, a successful interior designer whose casually cruel banker husband is careful not to leave visible bruises; she curates her perfectly thin body so closely she misses everything their teenage daughter is hiding. Then there’s Grace, a young Zimbabwean immigrant, who lives in high-rise housing project with her two children and their English father Martin, an award-winning but chronically broke novelist; she does far more for her family than she should have to.
As the weeks go by, the couples become very close; there are barbecues, garden parties, a holiday at a country villa in Greece. Resentments flare. An affair begins. Unnoticed, the children run wild. The couples are busily watching each other, so distracted and self-absorbed that they forget to watch their children. No one sees the five children at their secret games or realize how much their family dynamics are changing until tragedy strikes.
The story twists and then twists again while the three families desperately search for answers. It’s only as they begin to unravel the truth of what happened over the summer that they realize evil has crept quietly into their world.
But has this knowledge come too late?
It was surprising how quickly things took off in the end, like a bonfire, one of those big ones the children loved so much."
The Playground by Jane Shemilt is an insightful story that explores how engrossed some can become in their own needs and desires, and what is perceived as happiness that they ignore the glaring signs that all is not what it should be with those closest to them.
The story centers around three couples that form an unlikely yet close friendship when their children are part of the same Sunday tutoring group. Over the course of a few months, they are soon eating weekday meals together, ferrying each other’s children around and going on vacations together. It’s not long before fractures occur in each family, the fracture lines always there but now becoming more visible as their new friendships develop; each family has some level of dysfunction but some are far worse than others. When a tragic series of events occur, it leads to questions and suspicion but this is where Ms. Shemilt has mastered the art of the Red-herring!
The characters are well-rounded, flawed, and at times despicable. There are times when I thought it wasn’t possible to be that oblivious but it’s always easy on the outside looking in. One thing becomes obvious, someone is paying attention to the dalliances and weaknesses of others and will use this knowledge to manipulate and destroy until they get what they want.
This is a page-turner and I think a great read for any fan of the genre. I know I’ll be reading more from Ms. Shemilt.
A big thank you to Edelweiss, Harper Collins Publishers, and William Morrow for providing me with a copy of The Playground to read and review.
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