Wish her Safe at Home
by Stephen Benatar
From the beginning of this absorbing and unsettling novel we realise that Rachel Waring is “not quite right”.
Rachel was brought up by her mother and was clearly a strange, but intelligent and well-read, girl. A series of disappointments and, significantly, an early sexual encounter leaves her disappointed and yearning for a life that, sadly, was not to be. She looks after her mother until her death and then shares a flat with an acerbic, chain-smoking, colleague, Sylvia. When she inherits a dilapidated house in a posh area of Bristol Rachel decides to up sticks and leave London to live there - much to Sylvia’s chagrin. And, as it turns out, this is her last link with reality.
When she first visits the house a blue plaque on the wall attracts Rachel’s attention. Who is this 18th century philanthropist Horatio Gavin that the plaque venerates? She decides to find out more about him, acquires a portrait (that may or may not be Gavin) and embarks on a biography of the man. This is the beginning of an obsession that will consume Rachel.
Written in the first person, we see the world from Rachel’s point of view. It’s only when she comes into contact with others that we realise that all is not as it should be. The voice is so authentic that as at times we’re not sure if she really is paranoid and the story almost takes on the character of a psychological thriller. When we first encounter Rachel her behaviour seems simply eccentric, sometimes inappropriate, sometimes even charming, but as she becomes more submerged in the house and her obsession with Horatio Gavin gathers momentum her tenuous grip on reality slips until she descends into utter madness. And this is the genius of the book. That slow descent appears to be as frightening and shocking to Rachel is it is to us.
Obvious comparisons have been drawn with Miss Havisham, Blanche Dubois and other “middle-aged spinsters on the brink of madness” but Rachel Waring is most definitely a character in her own right and deserves to be treated as such.
WISH HER SAFE AT HOME was first published in 1982 and has been updated and revised. The author, Stephen Benatar, is available to discuss this book with reading groups. If your group would like to meet Stephen please email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will pass on your message to him. This is restricted to the London area only.